I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
Mariner Books, 2014, 176 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays
Elinor Lipman’s collection of essays is not a new set of material. Instead, it is truly a collection of her essays – pieces she’d published in journals, magazines, newspapers, and one or two fresh pieces. Despite the age of some of the essays, Lipman’s commentary on life in general remains pertinent to more modern times. Lipman’s main focus rests on her family – a husband and son. Family life frequently intersects with her Jewish heritage while Lipman muses on relationships, blunders, and gratefulness.
I recall one of the blurbs on the book comparing Lipman to a modern-day Jane Austen in the light of social observations. While I agree that Lipman is observant and often amusingly so, I wouldn’t go as far as to say she’s the Austen of the Twenty-First Century. That said, I enjoyed Lipman’s tamer take on the humorous essay. Where other, younger writers come across as having something to prove (often with crass humor that has its place but can become tiresome), Lipman’s age is reflected in her wisdom and her desire to prove something, if it ever existed, has gone long ago. At the same time, Lipman’s prose is that of an old friend’s. That is to say, while Lipman’s maturity is evident in both her content and style, this was not my grandmother writing. Lipman is friendly and engaging, reaching out to women in particular but offering something for everyone.
As different essays are pulled from different sources, I did find the lack of chronological order somewhat disjointing. While Lipman discusses her husband at length, one essay reveals his death shortly before other essays speak of him as a living person (which, of course, he was at the time of their original publication). The organization of essays as it currently is doesn’t add anything particularly compelling to the book as a whole. A chronological set, in fact, might have provided more as Lipman’s opinions change and grow over the years. This “character development” would have been more evident and therefore more interesting if the essays appeared in order.
The words I’d use to describe I Can’t Complain are all pretty bland: nice, pleasant, enjoyable – but don’t let that deter you from picking it up. It’s a fast read. Reading I Can’t Complain will be like spending a few hours with your mother in her most candid state on all topics, but most of all, on life.
❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤