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Recent Reading: Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman - Mo's Journal
June 3rd, 2008
09:35 am

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Recent Reading: Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
I just finished a fun novel by Elinor Lipman, called Then She Found Me. I had previously enjoyed her The Inn at Lake Devine. Like that novel, this one is also about a female Jewish protagonist in the Boston area. In this case April Epner is the adopted daughter of two Holocaust survivors (both deceased now) who is found by her talk show host birth mother and pretty much detests her from the start. The story takes place in the late 1980s, at a time when reality tv had not yet been invented and talk show hosts were huge celebrities.

April is a quiet, introspective, well-mannered high school Latin teacher who dresses in conservative clothing. Bernice, her birth mother, is the flamboyantly attention-getting host of a local talk show prone to loud talking and loud clothes. April is single at 36 but not particularly troubled by that; Bernice never married but uses her show to meet men and always seems on the verge of marrying one of them. April is honest to a fault; Bernice tells April a succession of poorly crafted lies, starting with a long story about JFK being April's birth father, having met 16-year-old Bernice when he was first running for Congress (a quick look at the World Book Encyclopedia in April's school library shows that Kennedy was in his third term in Congress at the time of April's birth). Bernice enters April's life with the subtlety of a steamroller and April tries valiantly not to be flattened.

Then She Found Me chronicles the development of a relationship between Bernice and April, along with April's romance with a colleague at her school, a romance spurred in part by Bernice's entry into her life. A series of lies ensues, but April does eventually find out who her birth father is, and Bernice is shown to be more than just a stereotype. All the characters grow in the novel and refine and develop their views of what family means. The tone is mostly light - and it's often LOL funny - but there are very touching and moving moments as well. I cried real tears when April's birth father tries to express to her his admiration and gratitude to her parents and his wish that he could meet them and thank them for how they raised her.

I was intrigued to hear that there is a recently released movie of Then She Found Me, starring Bette Midler as Bernice, which seems like perfect casting to me. But it seems to have pretty much sunk without a trace. It came out last month to not much attention and is already gone from all theatres in NYC (the nearest place I could see it this weekend is Teaneck, NJ). It also seems to have an entirely different plot from the novel! In the movie, April is married and her marriage is falling apart just as she gets pregnant. While she is pregnant, her husband leaves her, she falls in love with the father of a student of hers, her mother dies and her birth mother appears in her life. Oh, and it all takes place in 2007 New York City rather than 1980s Boston (I wonder if her parents are still Holocaust survivors - they'd be too old). It sounds as if it's sort of an April-and-Bernice AU - taking the characters Lipman created but putting them in a different place and time and generating a different plot. I'm still sort of intrigued to see what was done with the characters, but I guess I'll have to see it on the small screen, if at all.

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From:mofic
Date:June 3rd, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! The review was interesting. It sounds like a much busier plot than the book. The book's plot is pretty simple but that allows for really getting to know the characters. And the humor is very realistic - funny people saying funny things in a natural way.

The author says she loves the movie. Here she says - among other things - that Helen Hunt and others had tried to get a version closer to the book filmed for a long time and couldn't find any takers.
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From:wneleh
Date:June 7th, 2008 10:38 am (UTC)
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I heard Helen Hunt a month or two ago on some NPR show (I'd say Fresh Aire, but I don't think that's right) - the movie sounded really interesting, the sort of thing I'd see if getting to a movie weren't so complicated (and I wasn't obsessed w/, yk, Iron Man). I'm sad it came and went so quickly.


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From:mofic
Date:June 9th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
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I'm sad it came and went so quickly.

Me, too. If you'd like to read the book, I could send it to you.
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From:wneleh
Date:June 9th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the offer! I'm not safe with other peoples books, though - they get wet - and I'm pretty much devoting the summer to Iron Man.

- Helen

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