Nora Ephron’s ‘Heartburn’ Gets a 40th Anniversary Reissue, and It’s a Must-Read

In 1983, Nora Ephron published Acidity, a roman à clef about the end of her marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein. The book, Ephron’s first and only novel, was a bestseller. She spawned a 1986 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and, indirectly, Nora Ephron’s film, a romantic comedy subgenre characterized by urban wit and mild neurosis. Acidity it also heralded the prevailing variety of 21st-century food memoir: bold yet vulnerable, confessional yet conversational, written most often by a white woman, and interspersed with recipes that serve to reflect or illuminate a particular person, memory, or moment in life. the life of the writer . Although Ephron was never a food writer, her protagonist, Rachel Samstat, is, and Rachel’s account of her husband’s affair, which she discovers when she is seven months pregnant, and the subsequent implosion of their marriage is marked by 15 recipes, three of which are for potatoes

If you have heard of Acidity Lately, it’s probably due to Ephron’s vinaigrette recipe, which made an unlikely but memorable cameo in the big drama surrounding do not worry honey last fall. (Please don’t make me get into that.) Or maybe it’s because Aciditythe appearance last December in a viral guardian essay whose author called Ephron “the patron saint of militarized vulnerability.” Or maybe it’s because you’ve heard that Alison Roman, an outspoken Acidity stan, is including Aciditythe bread pudding recipe in his new cookbook, out this month (Roman describes it as “almost like a dry, caramelized tres leches”). If he hasn’t heard of Acidity lately, well, here it is again in the form of a 40th anniversary edition, released this week with a new trailer for Stanley Tucci.

The reissue has a truly inexcusable cover art, one that employs Clipart from Shutterstock and a weak font and is totally unanniversary. It’s also unclear why Stanley Tucci, a notable food person but also a notable man, was chosen to write the foreword to a book famous by and about a woman who tells her own story as a form of revenge and agency. . (“If I tell the story, I control the version,” Ephron wrote in his final pages.)

Get past that though, and you still have a book that has a lot to say about love and betrayal, and the ways that food can be employed in the service of both.

In Acidity, food is many things: a constant, a balm, a memory, a mark of class and identity, a metaphor, a punchline, and most memorably, a literal weapon. And while certain aspects of the book have aged very, very poorly in the last 40 years, most notably the instances of casual racism, xenophobia, and homophobia peppered in parts of the story like strychnine, the way Ephron wrote about food remains unbelievably cool.

the food in Acidity It’s ingrained in Ephron’s own upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing and the bourgeois culinary scene of the early 1980s. Rachel tells us that her mother used to serve smoked salmon, onions, and eggs on New Year’s Day, and that she herself learned about the origin of the hamantaschen while a college lover fingered her. She is the author of a cookbook titled Uncle Seymour’s Beef Borscht, once convinced Isaac Bashevis Singer to make a noodle kugel in his cooking show pilot, and has a well-honed comedy routine involving Jewish men who are revealed to be Jewish princes due to their inability to find butter on the fridge. She also mentions Marcella Hazan, cites a friend who thinks “pesto is the quiche of the ’70s,” and, after moving from New York to Washington, DC, for her husband’s job, nostalgically recalls shopping at Balducci’s, where the aisles were filled with “arugula [sic] and radicchio and fresh basil and sorrel and sweet peas and six kinds of sprouts.

Although not mentioned, the spectrum of best sellers The silver palate cookbook Hovering over Acidity: Posted a year earlier, it brought pesto, salmon mousse, and fruity vinaigrettes to aspirational dinner parties across the country (Ephron was reportedly a fan). The food here is decidedly apolitical, save for its ability to inspire strong and conflicting opinions.

Food and recipes in Acidity help tell us who Rachel is and who other characters aren’t: “For one thing,” she writes of her husband’s mistress, “Thelma Rice didn’t really care about food—that was clear in her gooey desserts.” Adam Gopnik once opined that the book’s recipes “serve as much as a joke about what a food writer writing a novel would write as a joke about novel writing itself by someone who anticipates it won’t be treated like a novel.” a ‘real’ novelist. That’s not entirely accurate to me: some of the recipes read like a joke, but most of them are just there, like stones in Rachel’s stream of consciousness or furniture used to embellish a scene. Most of the time they are included in Rachel’s observations on her life and the lives of others, inextricable from her thoughts on desire and deceit.

About three-quarters of the way into the book, when Rachel is cooking Lillian Hellman’s roast beef for a demonstration at Macy’s, she passes on the recipe to point out the way romantic fantasy is presented as fact. “I’m very smart about how complicated things get when food and love get hopelessly entangled,” she says. And yet, as she demonstrates the stew, she realizes that the food had become a way of maintaining the fantasy of her own relationship:

“I loved cooking, so I cooked. And then cooking became a way of saying I love you. And then cooking became the easy way to say I love you. And then the kitchen because the only way to say I love you. He was so busy perfecting the peach cobbler that he wasn’t paying attention.”

It’s a clean, if moving comment on that other fantasy that’s often presented as fact: Food, as we’re too often reminded, is love, shorthand for conveying purity and depth of feeling, with crumbs. That’s maybe where Acidity It shines brighter still: Despite Ephron’s obvious love of food and cooking, she never succumbs to the sticky sentimentality that has plagued so many other writers on the subject. (That’s not to say there isn’t any sentimentality: In introducing her three potato recipes, Rachel notes that she regrets the mistakes she’s made in love, “but never the potatoes that came with them.”) .

But as misled as Rachel has been about the state of her marriage, Ephron herself remains sharp and clear about food, love, and the ways we confuse and intertwine the two. Although cooking is a form of love for Rachel, it is more consistently a form of control, certainty and escape – the whole point of cooking, she says in an aside about how people like to insist that cooking is a “creative” activity. , “is that it is totally absurd… It is something safe in a world where nothing is safe”.

Acidity shows his age in his representation of domesticity. Rachel, like many women of the day, has aspired to marriage (a woman’s desire to marry, we are told, is “fundamental and primal”), even returning to live with her husband, Mark, after leaving him to her post. infidelity. This is a world where almost everyone is straight and married, and almost everyone is unhappy in their marriage but not willing to do much about it. The alternative that Ephron presents for women is narrow, grim and reactionary. Rachel tells how in the 1970s, women who left their marriages “discovered the horrible truth: that they were sellers in a buyer’s market, and that the greatest concrete achievement of the women’s movement in the 1970s was the Dutch deal. [splitting the bill in today’s parlance].” Marriage, by contrast, is presented as safe, at least if you’re a middle-to-upper-class white woman: yes, your husband will probably cheat on you, but at least you’ll have a kitchen where you can cook for yourself. it, along with the hired help option, to boot.

Ephron is often compared to Laurie Colwin, a prolific novelist who also wrote extensively about food. Home cooking if you haven’t already, but while they both write with great wit and charm, Colwin’s portrayal of domestic life was harsher, rooted in tiny, dire kitchens and culinary disasters. domesticity in Acidity it’s very much about keeping up appearances and holding on to the familiar, even if the familiar is slowly killing you.

And yet, domesticity doubles as a career, giving Rachel her own source of income and a name for herself. Eventually, Rachel turns him into a weapon, first by selling the diamond ring Mark gave her so she can afford to leave him forever, and then by baking a key lime pie which she then throws in Mark’s face. (In real life, Ephron reportedly spilled a bottle of red wine on Bernstein.)

That said, this is not a book that invites or rewards probing analysis of its gender politics. It’s a satirical revenge novel that doesn’t take itself very seriously, even if it does take heartbreak as serious business. Like the movies Ephron would make, it’s still mostly a snack made up of equal parts humor and angst. What do we get by reading it now? Presumably much of what 1983 readers got out of it, minus the more regrettable parts of it, is an entertaining read, if somewhat one-note. But we also have something of a crystal ball: the book is being reissued in an era of peak culinary narrative saturation, when everyone seems to have a personal essay, memoir, or TV show revolving around the very specific shapes. in which food has informed and defined their lives. For better or for worse, there are many writings that are still trying to be Acidityknow it or not.

What else does Acidity damage? That vinaigrette recipe, the same one that was named as part of the breakup of the romantic couple of Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis. At one point in the book, Rachel refuses to tell Mark how she does it because she doesn’t want him to share it with Thelma: “It was the one thing he had that Thelma didn’t,” she says. The recipe finally appears on the penultimate page of the book, when Rachel makes it for Mark the night before she leaves him. It requires just three ingredients: Gray Poupon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. This is the only recipe I made from the book, and I can understand why Rachel—and, if rumors are to be believed, Jason Sudeikis—felt territorial about it. It takes about two minutes to prepare, has perfectly balanced flavors, and as Rachel promises, is thick and creamy. Like heartbreak itself, it is timeless.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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