Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn”

41pFZ0DhKUL[1]Heartburn, by Nora Ephron, the author of the acclaimed screenplays When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, is yet another story about marital infidelity.

Rachel Samstat, a cookbook writer, has found bliss with her second husband. But only for so long. Their son is just a toddler, and she’s seven-months pregnant, when her beloved hubby breaks the heartbreaking news that he’s in love with Thelma, Rachel’s close friend.

Rachel, understandably, goes through a whole range of emotions toward Mark and his lover—none good—but she still hopes to get him back. Which seems a pathetic wish. When his love is gone, what can she possibly do? The thing is, despite his betrayal, she still loves him. It takes two to fail at marriage, she reasons, so she’s trying to figure out what she has done wrong. Was she too irritable with him, too nagging, too petty, too uncaring? Did she express her love for him mostly with her splendid cooking? Should she leave Mark for good or should she “wait this thing out,” as her friend advises, and hope he’ll love her again?


This reminded me of the lyrics of the 1920’s song, in a fine rendition by a drag actor Taylor Mac, that I heard on NPR: “If your kisses can’t hold the man you love/Then your tears won’t bring him back…

Ain’t that the truth?

We learn about Rachel’s decision at the end.

Nora Ephron is full of humor, and her protagonist Rachel is hilarious as the narrator. Even when she laments her misfortune, the way she does it makes us snigger or laugh out loud. She always makes a joke of serious situations. Not that she herself considers her situation a joke. But how can we not laugh at her when she is facing a divorce, while being pregnant, yet she views every man she encounters as potential husband #3. She says, “I wondered why I was so hopelessly bourgeois that I couldn’t even have a fantasy about a man without moving on to marriage.” 68 And she thinks that “the most unfair thing about this whole business is that she can’t even date.”

Isn’t that hilarious?

Nora Ephron based Heartburn on personal marital crisis. When I read about Rachel’s need to tell her story, I imagined the author speaking of her own need to talk about it—through her character. Her reason? “Because if I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. … Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.” 177

Great thinking. Because thanks to her decision, we now can read this fine story and have a good laugh and learn from it.

My favorite line: “And I had long ceased to believe in the existence of that mystical sisterly loyalty women are alleged to feel toward one another.” 151

Sadly, her case is not too uncommon, is it?


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