After the death of his wife Alice Trillin, urged by the many letters of condolence he received from family and friends, author Calvin Trillin decided to write About Alice, a touching memoir about his wife of 40 years. As a well-known travel writer, Trillin often referred to his wife in his books, yet realized from the condolence letters that other people really knew very little about his wife. So he set out to describe all of her many facets.
Calvin opens his memoir by quoting words from his condolence letters that he continued to receive even six years after his wife's death. He then takes us to the moment he first met Alice, at a party thrown by Monocle, a political satire magazine owned by Victor Navasky. He amusingly informs his reader that he remembers first seeing Alice at the party where she was wearing a hat--"a white hat, cocked a bit to the side"--yet Alice "later insisted that she'd never owned a hat" like that in her life (p. 12). Weeks later, he then pursued her to a second party, where he had his first long conversation with her and charmed her with his wit.
As his memoir continues, he describes her difficult childhood with a chain-smoking father who lived his life in debt and of how Alice had to take care of both her parents in her adulthood, a task she was happy to undertake. He also describes her excellent education, including a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley and Master of English from Yale, degrees that led to a teaching career at Hofstra University. Due to her substantial knowledge of English, Trillin frequently turned to her for critiques of his writing, seeing himself as really writing for her.
He ends his memoir by explaining the circumstances of her death. Due to second-hand-smoke exposure from her parents, Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1976 and feared dying, leaving Trillin to raise their two daughters on his own. However, she survived despite the low odds in those days but was diagnosed with heart disease in the 90s due to radiation exposure. She died waiting for a heart transplant, feeling content that they had had 40 years together.