The Ephron sisters, united by words
When filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron was in the hospital last year undergoing treatment for leukemia, she sent her younger sister, Delia Ephron, a bouquet of flowers — not just any flowers, but “two-dozen gorgeous plump peach roses in full bloom,” as Delia recalls in her new essay collection, “Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc.”
The gesture was thoughtful, but it was also, according to Ephron, “a heartbreaking way to have a bit of control” — a move typical of a perfectionist who was “brilliant at giving” but impossible to please when she was on the receiving end.
The loving, if not uncomplicated, relationship between the two sisters — both screenwriters and journalists, discriminating foodies and die-hard New Yorkers — is at the center of this slim volume.
“We borrowed lines from each other the way other sisters borrow dresses,” Ephron writes. That suggests an easy give-and-take, but as any woman with a sister can attest, many a bitter fight has been waged over borrowed clothing. Add to that the particular cruelties of show business, and you have a fraught mix.
Although the pair collaborated fruitfully many times over the years, beginning with “This Is My Life” and ending with a TV pilot they crafted during Nora's final weeks in the hospital, Ephron writes with piquant honesty about the difficulty of having such a renowned sibling. “My ‘job' as a younger sister was not to imitate but to differentiate,” she says. It's evident this task wasn't always an easy one.
Ultimately, though, Ephron is defensive of her sister, a resilient woman subjected to fiercer scrutiny than her male contemporaries in the film business. She even sees something faintly regressive in the outpouring of affection that followed Nora's death because, unlike the flops “Bewitched” and “Lucky Numbers,” it was impossible to “bounce back from.”
The event, still fresh, has left her reeling, and Ephron writes of her mourning process in the present tense. “It's a whole new world in an awful and confusing way,” she says. “A city in which the street signs are missing.” That's not to suggest time will necessarily heal the wound. In the book's most gripping and emotionally raw essay, called “Why I Can't Write About My Mother,” Ephron paints a vivid portrait of her parents, screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron.
As a self-proclaimed daddy's girl, Ephron struggles to comprehend her mother, a domineering, yet distant, woman who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1971. “My mother had a whopping genetic disposition to alcohol and demons I can't begin to guess at,” she says. “Which is why I can't write about my mother. I have no idea who she was.” Of course, that's precisely why she can, and does, write about her so compellingly.
Although the Ephron legacy looms large over “Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc.,” sprinkled throughout the collection are a number of brief ruminations about the absurdities of modern life.
Meredith Blake is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.