I kept wondering why I couldn’t find any modern equivalents of Nancy Hale’s remarkable memoirs, A New England Girlhood (1958) and The Life in the Studio (1969), both collections of essays from The New Yorker.
Then the other day at the library I discovered Amy Ephron’s Loose Diamonds…and Other Things I’ve Lost and Found along the Way, a collection of autobiographical essays that seems to have been published without much ado.
Amy Ephron is Nora Ephron’s sister. Nora Ephron is the famous humorist, director, and screenwriter. All four Ephron sisters, Nora, Amy, Delia, and Hallie, the daughters of two screenwriters, are talented writers.
But don’t mistake them for the same person. Their styles are very different.
Although Amy Ephron has a sense of humor, she is not a humor writer per se. She has written six novels, two of which I’ve read, One Sunday Morning and A Cup of Tea (the two my library has.)
Each minimalist essay in her new book, Loose Diamonds, is beautifully crafted. Ephron begins by telling us she has never bought loose diamonds–she prefers jewelry with settings and history. But as she muses on the loose diamonds in the back at antique stores, she relates the jewels to L.A.
Loose Diamonds has also always seemed to me a funny analogy for L.A.–an actress waiting for a part, a young woman who has a dream–as if they’re all looking for a “setting,’ a permanent surrounding, in a town that’s all about impermanence. And yet, there is something unsettling about the notion of all those loose things running around.”
Ephron recounts the burglary of her house late one night and the loss of her computer and jewelry. Through odd circumstances, she recovered the hard disk of her computer, but irreplaceable pieces of jewelry disappeared: the gold stud earrings her mother gave her when she got her ears pierced, Victorian opal earrings she found in a jewelry mart in Toronto, and a ’20s marcasite-and-crystal bracelet she wore all the time. The theft made it hard to get attached to things again.
In “Musical Chairs,” she writes about separation and conflict. She arrived at school to pick up her son one afternoon, and Kendra Rosenberg, another mother, rammed her Range Rover into Ephron’s old Mercedes. It turned out Kendra was dating Amy’s first husband, and was furious and crazy, somehow out to get Amy. She told everybody that Amy was the one with the problem and that Amy had rammed her car. Kendra’s insane tactical turnaround makes enemies for Amy.
In “My Afternoon with Squeaky Fromme,” Amy describes a hair-raising interview with Squeaky Fromme, one of Charles Manson’s followers, who seemed normal if troubled, and finally was imprisoned for an assassination attempt (with an unloaded gun) on Gerald Ford. On Manson’s eerie ranch, she wondered why Squeaky, accused of nothing, didn’t leave. When one of the not-yet arrested murderers on the ranch came along, both Amy and her driver friend made a getaway.
In “Egg Cups,” she reminisces about her frail mother, an alcoholic, who stored her saccharine in a Tiffany box and put all the condiments, including ketchup, in bowls or dishes.
It wasn’t a disorder, it was Mommy’s sense of elegance and style. I don’t know where she learned it, whether from the pages of Edith Wharton or Gourmet, but certainly not from my grandmother, who played Canasta much of the day with her next-door neighbor…”
Later, Ephron writes about her own predilection for putting condiments in bowls, and her daughters’ reaction when she doesn’t.
My favorite piece is “My Filofax.” Ephron needs a new Filofax, and everyone tells her she needs an iPhone. Ephron has had iPhones, but they don’t do what they’re supposed to do for her. She writes of her love of paper, and finally goes to a stationery store.
I tried to figure out why this book has been overlooked by book editors, and I can only think that it’s because Amy Ephron is different. Often we love essays and columns because we imagine ourselves in the writer’s place. Somehow–and I don’t know how–we feel exactly like Alice Thomas Ellis in Home Life (though we don’t have children and don’t live in London), Cathy, the quintessential single 30ish woman in Cathy Guisewaite’s Cathy cartoons, Cynthia Heimel’s hip single persona, and Betty MacDonald, trying gamely as young wife to raise chickens in The Egg and I.
Now we are not that person. We know that. But I always know I am not Amy Ephron. We are divided by L.A. It’s the tropical gardens, the beautiful weather, the parrots, the great shopping, and Hollywood. Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter-in-law is never at my hospital.
Each short, perfect essay overcomes our resistance, though. I highly recommend this book.