In the early days of their romance, Delia and Peter take trips (she to his coast, he to hers), exchange the most romantic texts and emails, buy a ping-pong table that they can only fit in their apartment by to move Dining room table. Ephron’s story is inspiring to all of us whose romantic lives or desires will never be the stuff of a big box office romantic comedy. The AARP crowd.
Then comes her diagnosis.
Delia’s oncologist treats her with a new experimental drug that puts her in remission. If remission fails, the only option left is a brutally painful stem cell transplant that has her begging to die.
Here the memoir bends, somewhat problematically, into the realm of medical procedures – a paean to heroic doctors, medical miracles. Peter remains the most loyal and devoted partner, so much so that every nurse writes “husband on duty” in her notes.
“You’re not your sister” is a chorus of Delia’s story – as it may have been all her life. She reminds herself that Nora’s death from leukemia doesn’t guarantee the same outcome for her. For starters, Nora Ephron kept her long illness a secret from pretty much everyone except her closest friends, almost to the end where Delia ends up inviting her legions of friends into her world.
If I have a problem with the memoir, it stems from the same quality that makes Delia Ephron come across as a particularly sympathetic and magnanimous person. Each page features new accounts of beautiful, kind deeds from a long cast of characters – tips for her hairdresser, old friends who visited in Wales, neighbors in their apartment block, the woman behind the counter at the bakery, the stem cell donor – whose names and stories that I struggled to keep straight. Ephron fills the second half of her book with their loving but not particularly memorable notes for her, reprinted in their entirety.
The character that shines through in Ephron’s story is, of course, Peter. As the couple’s story draws to a close, and Ephron’s health is restored, she leaves us with a great movie moment: Peter walking with a sweet new puppy on West 10th Street. Didion — who gave us “Play It As It Lays” — may have turned her lens on a darker, more caustic image. But let’s not forget that Delia Ephron is part of the team that created “You’ve Got Mail.” If there is such a thing as a feel-good memoir, this is it.