four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-AboutAliceSensible, sharp-witted Alice Trillin became such a familiar figure to readers of Calvin Trillin’s books and articles that after her death, strangers wrote to Trillin to express their condolences. This slim volume is an expanded version of the March 2006 New Yorker essay in which Trillin first published his reminiscences about his beloved wife and muse of nearly 40 years. In part, it narrates the aspects of her story that had been omitted from his occasionally cartoonish portrayals of her. In passing, the book touches on politics, child rearing, education, writing, and, most of all, the joys of a successful and loving marriage.
Random House. 78 pages. $14.95. ISBN: 1400066158

Newsday 5 of 5 Stars
"Friends reported sobbing on planes, treadmills, wherever they unsuspectingly opened Trillin’s devastatingly moving portrait. … About Alice is so suffused with love that readers may want to give it as a wedding present with the note, ‘This is how it’s done.’" Heller McAlpin

Philadelphia Inquirer 5 of 5 Stars
"A quick and moving read … About Alice serves as a primer on how fleeting, wonderful, cruel and ultimately worthwhile life can be, all at once. It will also fill most of us who never met her personally with a small pang of regret." Michael McHale

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At a scant 82 pages, About Alice is a short and sweet elegy. … If there were moments of conflict or pain during their Monocle marriage, Trillin says nothing about them." Jonathan Kirsch

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I don’t think Trillin is out to portray Alice as a saint. Rather, he is trying, and largely succeeding, in doing something lyrical: capturing the essence of Alice, the moments when she was truly the Alice-est." Jim Higgins

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Sentimental readers hoping to get a glimpse of the real woman will be disappointed—that is, if they can see through the welling of their tears." Chauncey Mabe

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Part eulogy, part love letter, part celebration and part valediction. … You get the distinct feeling that Alice was hovering over the manuscript, making her usual savvy suggestions and steering Calvin away from anything that might register as maudlin." Carole Goldberg

Critical Summary

The humor that Calvin Trillin exhibits so brilliantly in his travel and food pieces is strongly evident in his loving tribute to his wife, even when he writes about Alice’s battle with cancer or the eulogies delivered at her memorial service. The combination of lighthearted wit and deeply emotional topics appealed to reviewers universally, and several even suggested that readers have tissues handy for the more emotional passages. Trillin maintains a delicate veil over any aspects of his marriage that might have been less than magnificent, but critics generally viewed this silence as thoughtful discretion. In sum, About Alice sets a new standard not only for elegies—but also for marriage itself.

Also by the Author

Messages from My Father (1996): If you enjoyed Trillin’s tribute to Alice, you might also want to try his memoir of his father. Though Abe Trillin didn’t permeate his son’s work as Alice did, he had a profound effect on the writer’s life. Yes, it’s another tale of an honest, beloved immigrant father from the Midwest—and it’s a good one.