What can you say about a 63 year old lady who died? That she was kind, generous, pretty, optimistic. That she hated cigarettes and waste. That she took an active interest in other people and was never afraid to engage or provoke in the pursuit of her beliefs. That she survived cancer and died of a bad heart.
All this and more is the subject of About Alice, New Yorker staff writer Calvin Trillin’s touching tribute to his wife and muse of 36 years. Writing about a lost loved one is always tricky – one risks being both self-indulgent and overly sentimental. Trillin is neither. Delicate with humor and sweetness, About Alice is a delicious andante of a book, a careful miniature of memories that is both a glowing portrait of the person Alice was and a celebration of the marriage that she and Calvin shared. Trillin keeps the focus very much on his wife, and talks relatively little about his own feelings, but the bond between them is there on every page – in the tenderness with which he writes about her, in the descriptions of the trials and triumphs they share, as well as their small moments of intimacy, in the sheer aching beauty of Trillin’s writing. As love stories go, About Alice is the real thing.
There’s a point in the book where Trillin describes how everything he wrote in their years together was written for Alice – to impress her, make her laugh. It is the sincerity of Trillin’s dedication, his manifest awe at having found someone so special to share his life with, that makes About Alice a moving read. We should all be so lucky.