The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
by Elinor Lipman
Meet poor Alice Thrift, surgical intern in a Boston hospital, high of I.Q. but low in social graces. She doesn't mean to be acerbic, clinical, or painfully precise, but where was she the day they taught Bedside Manner 101? Into Alice's workaholic and romantically challenged life comes Ray Russo, a purveyor of fairground fudge, in need of rhinoplasty and well-heeled companionship, not necessarily in that order. Is he a con man or a sincere suitor? Good guy or bad? His well-engineered cruise into carnal waters introduces Alice to a new and baffling concept, chemistryand not of the organic kind. Is it possible for a woman of science to cure her own loneliness in the unsuitable arms of a parental nightmare? Luckily, Leo Frawley, R.N., who has a high threshold for Alice's left-footed people skills, and Sylvie Schwartz, M.D., fellow resident and woman of the world, take on the task of guiding Alice through the narrow straits of her own no-rapport zone.
"Almost nobody writes serious entertainment with more panache," said the Chicago Tribune of Elinor Lipman. Now comes the novel Publishers Weekly is calling "surely her best to date...a triumph...a book you can't put down."
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1. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift opens with the announcement of a marriage and its ultimate failure. Does knowing the outcome spoil the narrative journey in any way?
2. Alice always expresses herself in literal and clinical terms. How does the author maintain a comedic tone while her narrator is, essentially, tactless and devoid of humor?
3. No one around Alice can understand what she sees in Ray Russo. How much of that universal disapproval is based on class differences? What facts did the author slip onto Ray's figurative résumé to prejudice his case?
4. Reviewers have noted Elinor Lipman's "fondness for inviting peripheral characters along with their numerous subplots and intrigues to have their say." Which characters in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift best exemplify this hallmark?
5. Could The Pursuit of Alice Thrift have been set anywhere, or is there something intrinsically Bostonian about the story and its characters?
6. The author has said that this novel is, first and foremost, "about friendship, and being rescued by it." Leo Frawley might be described as the novel's nurturer, while Sylvie Schwartz functions as its tough guy. Do you think that the author set out to challenge the readers' gender expectations, or was she simply trying to create original characters?
7. Except for her long hair and unfashionable clothes, Alice is never described physically. How do you picture her? Did she change in your mind's eye as she grew more comfortable inside her own skin?
8. Dialogue is all-important in Elinor Lipman's novels. Is its most important role that of advancing the plot, developing the characters, or entertaining the reader?
9. Should Ray Russo be described as the novel's villain, or might he be, after all, Alice's catalyst and crucible?
10. If you could see into their futures, what will Alice, Sylvie, and Leo be doing ten years from now?
11. Novelist Carol Shields, in her biography of Jane Austen, observed, "...(M)others are essential in her fiction. They are the engines that push the action forward, even when they fail to establish much in the way of maternal warmth." How does Mrs. Thrift fit the Austen model? And how much influence does Mrs. Frawley still exert over her full-grown, independent son?
12. Alice confides to Dr. Shaw's companion, Jackie, "I'm confused by the fact that we had, to the best of my knowledge, in the vernacular, great sex." Why is she baffled? Is it purely her lack of experience, or is it back to the sociology of Ray and Alice--that by all other standards they would be judged incompatible?
13. In Shakespeare's plays one can rely on comedies ending in marriage. The two weddings in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, however, are not endings in any conventional sense. What purpose do they serve in the education and evolution of Alice?
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"About the best trick any writer can possess is the ability to make everything look easy, even to other writers who know better. Elinor Lipman possesses this gift in spades, and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift treats head, heart, and funny bone with equal respect."
Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
"Elinor Lipman's latest novel brings together the rare combination of intelligence, wit, and wisdom. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a jewel of a book."
Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries
"Elinor Lipman writes with perfect pitch. I started to underline all the bits of Alice Thrift that either amazed or tickled me, but I finally had to quit: there were simply too many."
Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife
"In this, the age of bogus Joe Millionaires and Barbie Doll bachelorettes, Elinor Lipman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift dares to pose the question Can the frumpy physician find happiness with the unctuous fudgemonger? The answer is, in equal measures, heartfelt and hilarious. Let Joe and Barbie live happily ever after. Lipman writes for the rumpled rest of us. I love this book."
Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone