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After a book goes to press, readers will send in comments about corrections that are needed. In the next printing, there will sometimes be a brief bound-in page of corrections. If the book goes into another edition, those corrections will be made into the body of the book.
In About Alice, Calvin Trillin seems to be giving us a very brief book (more like a long essay) about where he has misled us about Alice in his earlier nonfiction books. When someone is alive, there's an ability to have fun with the person's quirks. But those satires muddy the real person and run the risk of portraying the wrong message to future generations . . . especially if the person is your wife whom your grandchildren will never know, as the dedication suggests.
In this ultra slim volume, you'll learn that Calvin considers himself luckier in love than any other part of his life: Alice was to him, his true better half . . . whether in beauty, intelligence, good humor, parenting, being loving, or writing.
Alice wasn't a dietitian in sensible shoes: She once took off one of her expensive and stylish shoes to make the point during a Calvin Trillin talk in San Francisco. The post-wedding photograph on the back of the dust jacket makes the same point as she appears letter perfect, smoothly coiffed, exquisitely stylish in her ensemble, and ideally erect while Calvin looks more like a teddy bear who is developing a slight paunch to go with the beginnings of a slouch.
Alice was so attractive that it affected her ability to have normal friendships with women. She had a worse cross to bear: She was considered much brainier than she was beautiful during time when brainless blondes were in demand.
Most writers never show any work to anyone in the family . . . until after it's safely published. Calvin Trillin was eager to show his writing, both because he wanted to impress her and because she gave him good advice. Now theirs must have been a most unique marriage. I know of few writers who would say or do the same.
But unexpectedly, Alice was also mortal. She developed lung cancer at an improbably young age . . . and barely survived. Each day after that was a blessing that made their time together all that much more precious. Then, her heart gave out from complications related to her earlier radiation therapy. Knowing she was dying, Alice hung on to be there for her daughter's wedding.
Between the two bouts of illness, she sought to be generous, considerate, and supportive in all ways. If seeing her didn't bring enough sunshine, her attitude took care of the rest.
Alice, we'll miss you.
Unless you dearly want to have this photograph of Calvin and Alice, I suggest you read the book at the library. It's pretty expensive for the relatively few pages.
I wish I had known her. Some five years after her death, The New Yorker magazine writer par excellence Calvin Trillin has penned a loving, touching portrait of his late wife, Alice Stewart Trillin, whom he married in 1965. Mr. Trillin has claimed that his work is not as good since she died as she used to edit his drafts. That's a bit hard to believe as while I've not read all of his articles and books, I have eagerly consumed several and found "About Alice" to be as impeccably crafted as his earlier works. He's a writer blessed with a goodly share of humor, keen observation, and the ability to make even the most everyday things, such as the quest for a parking space, intriguing.
Those who have read Mr. Trillin are familiar with Alice as she has appeared in many of his writings. We believed we knew her. Not really. As Mr. Trillin once noted in looking over the letters of condolence he received. So many felt that they knew her; a fact he believes she'd deny. She felt he portrayed her as a sort of a dietician in sensible shoes.
In fact, he noted this description of her in a speech he once made and was asked whether or not she was in the audience and if so, would she stand? Stand she did without saying a word, simply waving a very expensive high heeled shoe in the air.
She was, as he describes her, a mother who thought that if you didn't go to every performance of your child's school play, "the county will come and take the child." She was warm, extremely intelligent, and generous, sometimes overlooking the inflation in a repairman's bill with, "He doesn't have a very nice life. And we're so lucky."
They were opposites; for him, it was love at first sight and obviously still is. "About Alice" is, of course, about a remarkable woman but it is also the story of a marriage. As read by the one person who should do so, Mr. Trillin, it's a book that should be heard by everyone who is in love, all who were in love, and those who want to be.
- Gail Cooke