Monday, January 15, 2007

BOOKS | About Alice

I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking last year. As Joan Didion grieved and mourned her husband, she began reacting poorly to food. In fact, the thought of food made her want to throw up. It was here that the kindness of friends revealed itself. In particular, she wrote:

I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for the first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.

I thought then: this friend shows extraordinary sensitivity and empathy. I thought this friend must have lost someone important in his/her life - and understood. I wondered who this friend was, and was a little disappointed it was never revealed in the book.

Compassion of this sort is too precious to be taken for granted these days. Too often we are too caught up with our own lives, and we end up being less useful to our friends than we would like to. I thought: if it happened to me, I would remember the friend who brought me congee very dearly. We need more of these souls in our lives.

As it happens, one day while reading the Shambhala Sun magazine, I found out this kind friend was Calvin Trillin.

It turns out I was not too wrong in my assumptions. Calvin Trillin lost his wife, in September 2001. He too, had known the loss and grief of a partner's death. In fact, his new book is a tribute to his late wife, Alice. I thought Calvin Trillin must have been a loving man.

Recently Christian Science Monitor has a review of Calvin Trillin's About Alice. (Do not ask me why I read Christian Science Monitor. I am not against Jesus - I just have issues against some of his followers.)

About Alice

It was a nice write-up, the kind that makes me curious and send me into the bookstores for the book. The review tells you, "Anyone who wants to know what it might be like to love the same person for most of a lifetime has only to pick up this little book to find out." In his articles, Calvin Trillin usually sets himself as the goofy husband, and Alice as the voice of reason and moderation. But Alice Trillin is also beautiful, passionate and loving - almost larger than life. It makes me wonder about the woman who inspires such love and devotion in a man. As Calvin Trillin declares,

"I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice."

Who is this Alice?


Rebecca H. said...

Let me try again -- I've had a bit of trouble commenting here. But what I wanted to say was that the Didion story is a great one, and the Trillin book looks very good. I might check it out one of these days -- I read an excerpt of it in the New Yorker, and it was great.

Anonymous said...

I found the Didion book well-written too -- but I found something a little disturbing in the style she wrote. She was doing the "cool customer" -- that sense of shell-shocked from grief that I often find in memoirs of trauma. It's not like she walked through grief and found peace at the other end.

This is a survivor's account.

I guess that's also partly why i want to pick up Trillin's book, maybe for the other side of the story -- another means of living through the loss of a long-time partner.