I reread Heartburn on the train back from a weekend in NYC. I’ve probably read it 20 or 30 times and it remains nearly perfect, perfect even in its imperfections, like how the recipes seem kind of tacked-on. The first time I read it I was 13 and I somehow still loved it even though I definitely didn’t understand divorce, the difference between Washington DC and New York City, pregnancy, what children do to marriage, cultural Judaism, or any of the other things it’s about. The description of how cool it is to have breasts that bounce when you walk down the street — because you’re pregnant — really resonated with me, at 13.
The part of the book that impressed me the most this time was how it’s so light and funny but also dark and sad, and how that balance somehow isn’t jarring. It’s full of lines so good that Nora Ephron couldn’t resist recycling them in the romantic comedies she would go on to write and to be best known for. Some of these lines are unapologetically corny, like the one about how New York City makes narrator Rachel Samstat’s heart “do a little dance.” There are plenty of moments that telegraph Ephron’s disinterest in being taken seriously as a novelist, like long digressions into about Rachel’s crazy family that serve no plot purpose and then end with a recipe for lima beans. But somehow by the final chapter we’ve gotten so attached to Rachel that, by the final page, Ephron can pull off a tonal shift that reliably leaves me in tears, even though I know it’s coming. The characters in this farce are suddenly real, and their actions have lasting, crushing consequences. What makes the end of Rachel and Mark’s marriage so piercing is that we’ve just flashed back to their love at its tenderest — the songs Mark sang to her during her first pregnancy, the jokes they made in their everyday life together. But now it’s over, even as their second child’s life is just beginning. “This man is a stranger. Don’t let this stranger see me eviscerated,” Rachel thinks, as she’s wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-section. The freewheeling structure turns out to have been tighter than we thought. (Something about using pregnancy to structure a novel must have lodged deep in my subconscious the first time I read this book. Actually I just googled and it turns out I reread it as I was beginning to work on Friendship, so probably not that sub-consciously)
I’ve still never seen the movie, yes I know it has Meryl Streep! But the way I imagine the settings and characters is so detailed now and I don’t want to mess with it.