A remarkably moving and memorable tribute to Alice Trillin, who figured prominently and indelibly in Calvin Trillin's books, and in his life. Alice was a beautiful, brilliant, and beloved wife. She died all too soon, coincidentally on 9/11. Since then, Calvin Trillin has been working on a tribute. It was finally published in The New Yorker in March, and immediately became one of the most talked about pieces in recent years. Calvin then expanded the article into this persuasive and poignant portrait, which is not about grief, but rather a celebration of a remarkably rewarding and remunerative life. It has left listeners in tears, unable, for a while, to shake the experience from the mind. Because - beyond anything else - this is truly a love story, something all too rare today.
About Alice has all those elements but it is, at heart, a profound love story. He is remarkably open and lucid about all the ways that he loved Alice. Without ever being grim, or maudlin, despite the fact that he lost Alice to a persistent cancer, he shares, in a very forthright way, what a delightful wife, mother, friend & intellect was Alice.
One of my favorite parts is when he talks about what it is like to be with an extremely attractive woman, to watch the way other men react to her. I have plenty of personal experience with this and he helped me see things that I "knew" but had never been able to articulate.
Any man interested in really knowing about love ought take this book to heart.
The book isn't very long. It clocks in at a mere 78 pages but he said all he had to say in that period. The book is in kind of a free form format, where Trillin goes into how they met, how they came to be married and what their lives were like in the early days. He also plays amateur psychologist and tries to analyze Alice's personality via her father's business failings etc. But he also skips around raising specifics about Alice, her deeds, her love of her kids, and her personality. It is at once touching and warm. It makes me yearn for a love like this between two people who have the intelligence and warmth to realize that this relationship of theirs is uncommon and to appreciate each other as seemingly no other has before.
Brief Summary: Trillin's wife Alice made frequent appearances in his writing, and it was obvious he loved her fully and deeply. This little book, written five years after her death from cancer, chronicles their love story, paints a portrait of a talented and generous woman, and pays tribute to the woman of whom Trillin wrote: "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice."
Brief Thoughts: Touching and often amusing (as Trillin often is), this book is a lovely tribute to a special woman and a tender look at a strong marriage between soul mates. If only all of us could be so lucky to be loved and adored like Alice obviously was.
**SPOILER ALERT (Highlight)**
Alice is described in light detail and across the spectrum of their marriage. Calvin exposes some of Alice's flaws but of course, he focuses on her many positive traits. There was one characteristic that really struck a chord for me - Alice was passionate.
She was quick to bring up a topic in which she held a firm belief if given the opportunity. She liked to engage in friendly debate regardless of the location or the stature of the person with whom she was conversing. She showed passion for her beliefs in this regard. She also showed passion for her family and friends. As Trillin puts it, "When it came to trying to decide which theories of child-rearing were highly beneficial and which were absolutely ruinous to the future of your child - a subject of considerable discussion among some parents we knew - we agreed on a simple notion: your children are either the center of your life or they're not, and the rest is commentary."
My favorite quote from the book was:
"At camp, Alice had a tendency to gravitate toward the child who needed the most help, and L. was one of those. 'Last summer, the camper I got closest to, L., was a magical child who was severly disabled,' Alice wrote. 'She had two genetic diseases, one which kept her from growing and one which kept her from digesting any food. She had to be fed through at tube at night and she had so much difficulty walking that I drove her around in a golf cart a lot. We both liked that. One day, when we were plaing duck-duck-goose, I was sitting behind her and she asked me to hold her mail for her while she took her turn to be chased around the circle. It took her a while to make the circuit and I had time to see that on top of the pile was a note from her mom. Then I did something truly awful, which I'm reluctant now to reveal. I decided to read the note. I simply had to know what this child's parents could have done to make her so spectacular, to make her the most optimistic, most enthusiastic, most hopeful human being I had ever encountered. I snuck a quick look at the note, and my eyes fell onto this sentence: 'If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, L., we would only have chosen you.' Before L. got back to her place in the circle, I showed the note to Bud, who was sitting next to me. 'Quick. Read this,' I whispered. 'It's the secret of life.'"
I think that quote sums up Alice quite well.
***** END OF SPOILERS *****
With regards to Mr. Trillin himself, I commend him on this lovely little piece of work. My only deduction in the rating was due to the brevity of the book. I wanted more. Perhaps that's my shortcoming having not read his other Alice works. Nonetheless, it's a book that should be handed to all couples before they get married with a note in it that states - "This is what love really looks like. Make it your goal in life to get here."
When compared with many other friends, family, and acquaintances, I would suggest (and this has been suggested by others) that my wife and I have a very special relationship. I believe it is similar in many ways, albeit shorter in duration, to the Trillin's marriage. This book was a great reminder of how fortunate I have been in this regard.
About Alice is part memoir, part tribute and all love story. Trillin met his future wife at a party and instantly fell in love. Friends claimed that they were George Burns and Gracie Allen, with Alice playing George. These two opposites proved to be the perfect compliment. Not only was Alice a talented writer as well, but also a dedicated teacher. Their happiness was threatened in 1976 when Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 38 and given only two years to live. Amazingly, she survived another 25 years before succumbing to heart disease--her heart being damaged by the radiation treatment that saved her life years before.
It is obvious how much of a hole Alice's death has left in Trillin's life. Not only was she his wife, but he also depended on her to proofread, edit, and critique his many works. In the dedication of the first book published after her death, Trillin writes "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice." Many women would be envious to have a husband who could write so eloquently about his love for his wife.
After reading About Alice, I'm impressed enough with both Trillin's writing and Alice that I plan to read some of his other works including Travels with Alice, and Alice, Let's Eat.
This is a slim volume. The Audiobook was only 1hr 17mins long. A quick read.
This is a heartwarming paean of love and gratitude to his wife, who had died five years earlier.
It's not sad or depressing, it is an uplifting and inspirational celebration of her as wife, mother, and very much as her own wonderful self.
Count your blessings and enjoy everything, I think that's the message.
Now, five years after her death, her husband offers this loving portrait of Alice Trillin off the page, an educator who was equally at home teaching at a university or a drug treatment center, a gifted writer, a stunningly beautiful and thoroughly engaged woman who, in the words of a friend, “managed to navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in.”