The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

Elinor Lipman won the 2001 New England Book Award for Fiction for works which are essentially comedies of manners. Her heroes and heroines are hardly heroic, and their behavior is downright absurd. If her plots are romantic, the lovers are usually as peculiar a pair as those in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift.

The title character of this novel, a surgical intern in a Boston hospital, is failing in her profession because she cannot relate to others. Then two men enter her life. One of them, Leo Frawley, a popular male nurse, becomes Alice’s roommate and her advisor. The other, Raymond Russo, an itinerant fudge salesman and an inveterate liar, talks himself into her bed, charms her family, and sweeps Alice into what Leo and her friend Sylvie Schwartz both know is a foolish marriage.

When Ray’s girlfriend turns up at the ceremony, Alice decides to test Ray by telling him she has lost her job, and Ray promptly decamps with all the gift checks he can grab. Although the wedding is a disaster, there is a happy ending to the story. The real celebration takes place not after the wedding, but after the divorce. Then it becomes evident how much Alice owes to Ray. Though his motives were villainous, he did teach Alice how to open up to other people. Now her patients love her, she has no trouble making friends, and she is probably on the brink of marriage to Leo, who can give Alice the real love that Ray merely counterfeited.