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Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. by Delia Ephron

August 8, 2013

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. is the newest book from author and screenwriter Delia Ephron. I got a galley copy of this book through the Penguin Books First to Read program. I signed up to read and review upcoming books and was given this one in the first round (I only signed up about a month ago). It’s a great program and I really like the idea, plus… free books! I also think it’s a great program because this isn’t the type of book I would have picked out for myself to read since it falls into a few categories that I rarely select from – collections of essays and books written for women, to name two. I really liked parts of this book and others not as much, but the format made it an enjoyable and quick read.

Delia Ephron is a published author of novels and plays but has also worked on several films, including Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail in collaboration with her sister, Nora Ephron. In this book the author reflects on a number of experiences from her work as a screenwriter and as a writer, as well as emotional events in her life such as the descent of her parents into alcoholism, and the recent death of her beloved sister Nora from cancer. The individual essays are only loosely linked and might all only be described by the subject “what is on my mind as I sit down to write.” The range of subject matter covered is enormous, but she managed to transition quite smoothly between tones, even within a single essay. I think what I liked best about this book is how clearly you can hear the voice of the author. Her personality comes through loud and clear and I found it easy to connect with the words on the page.

I rarely read essays, mostly because I like the continuity of a single long plot, but I thought they worked particularly well in this context. Since the book itself is autobiographical, each essay serves to fill in a single aspect of the writer’s life, as told by her. This gives Ephron much more freedom with her writing, as she can change her style depending on who (or what) she is talking about. When grieving for her sister and reflecting on her death, she uses short stinging sentences that feel painful and difficult, but when talking about her dog she’s allowed to gush and fawn, using long warm sentences to talk about their walks. I wasn’t terribly fond of a few of her essays, and this was probably where the best thing about the essays came into play – they were all short, and the ones I didn’t like as much were over quickly.

I don’t want to be overly critical. I don’t think there are any bad books, just books that don’t quite work for you, and this one didn’t always work for me. I felt like some of her essays about herself were included so that she could have her say for posterity. For example, she devotes a single essay to tweets she has written for a hashtag of her own invention: #TheHairReport. Over a year (or a few years) she has tweeted various descriptions of the weather as relates to how she should wear her hair that day. I think she only included the ones she found most witty (and I can’t decide if this bothers me more than if she had included her entire trend opus) and arranged them into a list. In other essays reflecting on her past she includes several witty quips and comebacks at the time that don’t really add anything to the story. They seem to be there for posterity to record funny lines that she’s always wanted to tell someone about. But of course, this is only the way it seemed to me. In the context of the author’s writing about herself, she may find these anecdotes extremely important to her personal narrative.

The essays that I enjoyed, however, I deeply enjoyed. I was enchanted by her essays about her memories of her sister right before her death, her troubled relationship with her alcoholic mother, and her realization that she wanted to be a writer. I also really liked the one about her dog, because, like her, I’m obsessed with mine. The emotional depth of those pieces was lovely and I think they brought the book together really nicely. I’m not sure if I would recommend this book profusely, most people I know don’t read women’s lit, but if that is the genre you’re after I am sure you would really enjoy this book.


From → Non-Fiction

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