three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-MyLatestGrievanceTeenage Frederica Hatch feels stifled by her parents’ politically correct causes, brutal honesty, and treatment of her as an equal. As a faculty pet at a small women’s college near Boston in the 1970s (her parents are psychology and sociology professors), Frederica wishes for different parents, a new life. Then Laura Lee French, her father’s ex-wife Frederica never knew about, comes to town as a dorm mother, and Frederica’s wish comes true—sort of. Laura Lee is everything her parents are not—glamorous, irresponsible, childless, self-absorbed, and a little nutty—but that doesn’t necessarily satisfy Frederica. For, as scandal starts to consume Laura Lee’s life, Frederica must pick up the pieces.
Houghton Mifflin. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 0618644652

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[U]p there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs. … Reality being more oddball, quirky, and chaotic than fiction can ever be, Lipman inures us to the truth about the way we live by making it up as she goes along, cracking jokes and pretending it’s all fiction." Fay Weldon

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Lipman’s dialogue is consistently mirthful, her entire book filled with witty, quotable bons mots, but each time My Latest Grievance threatens to turn into a Wodehousian collision of caricatures, she pulls back and, with carefully timed reminders of her characters’ painful reality, turns her comedy of manners into something a good deal more moving." Saul Austerlitz

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As Lipman’s bittersweet farce unfolds, she uncovers a family romance of an unusual kind, delving into the stories parents tell each other about child-rearing—and the stories children tell themselves about parenting. … In My Latest Grievance, Lipman grapples with these themes more seriously than before." Liesl Schillinger

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether the novel turns serious or hilarious, every page offers laugh-out-loud dialogue. … My Latest Grievance is so fun that you want to tell Lipman not to hurry quite so fast; it’s a novel so entertaining you’re sorry to see it end." Melinda Bargreen

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"Frederica’s voice is funny and knowing, and the book is at its strongest whenever she observes (or lampoons) her parents, whose solemn insistence on raising their daughter as an equal has consistently hilarious results. … If the upside to Lipman’s snappy dialogue is the story’s brisk pace, the downside is its lack of emotional reality." Francesca Delbanco

USA Today 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Though Lipman has been erratic or thin in the past, Grievance is her least successful novel in a long time. … [T]he reader is more jarred than entertained by an attempted suicide, a neurologically disabled woman being overmedicated, and a girl left emotionally orphaned and packed off to boarding school." Deirdre Donahue

Critical Summary

Elinor Lipman’s eighth novel (after The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003) exhibits her trademark social satire, facility with dialogue, and humor. Like her other novels, it addresses themes close to the heart: the bonds between parents and children and between fiction and reality. Covering a few decades, the novel offers a smart, funny protagonist and outlandish, if highly realistic, situations. Yet while the Seattle Times called the novel Lipman’s "best work so far" and the Washington Post couldn’t praise the author enough, the Chicago Tribune felt that Lipman’s wit masked genuine emotion. Only USA Today thought the novel descended into poorly plotted melodrama. The general consensus, however, is that My Latest Grievance is worth a reader’s every second.