I spoke to award-winning author Elinor Lipman about her latest novel Ms. Demeanor, which is a sheer delight. Highly recommend. And don’t just listen to me. The book has been named a semi-finalist (winner announced May, ’24) in the Thurber Award for American Humor. It’s New York-based Lipman’s 16th book, including Then She Found Me, The Inn at Lake Devine, , I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, and Good Riddance. Lipman is known for her happy earned endings.
Jane Morgan is a respected, valued member of her law firm, that is until a prudish neighbour spied (with a giant pair of binoculars) Jane having sex on the roof of her NYC apartment building. Next thing you know the cops are called, Jane’s license is suspended AND she’s sentenced to six months of home confinement. That’s where the fun starts. Think part detective and part romantic comedy in this intelligent, madcap caper of a novel.
I adored Ms Demeanor, the perfect antidote to the times right now. Enough with depressing news. We need a distraction. I need a distraction. I first listened to the book on Audible and the narrator was excellent, her Polish accent impeccable. I was so entertained and was alone at the time, not feeling well. Ms. Demeanor was the perfect bedside companion. Here’s my edited for length Q&A with the talented Elinor Lipman;
- Your main character Jane Morgan, a lawyer, gets caught having sex on the roof with a much younger colleague. He gets a slap on the wrist, while she gets her license suspended and is sentenced to 6 months home confinement. Jane feels zero guilt about what she’s done. She’s 39 and is not desperate to get married. She’s a very modern heroine. Is that how you perceived Jane to be from the start?
No. I got this lovely review in the NY Times and the reviewer kept saying, ‘Hooray for (Elinor), that there’s no disapproval. Her parents are ok with it, she’s ok with it.’ And I thought, what about Fear of Flying (published in 1973)?” To me (Ms. Demeanor) was just a modern woman having sex, maybe a little early on the first date. The only disapproval was her kicking herself for letting this happen and what it led to, but not any kind of sexual guilt. I don’t think I should get any kudos for making her a modern woman. It never occurred to me that her having sex on the roof on a first date is something I should get plaudits for.
- What was the most challenging part about writing Ms. Demeanor? And what was the most enjoyable?
The most challenging part for me in every novel is moving the story forward, aka plotting. I take it one chapter at a time, so I’m constantly asking myself, “What’s next?” If only I was outline-prone! The most enjoyable part was writing about Jane’s cooking and catering.
- Speaking of cooking, there’s a lot of it in Ms. Demeanor. With the holidays upon us, can you tell us something delicious that you have made recently?
Sure. Last night I made a recipe from the NYT, salmon sitting on a bed of farro and on top of the whole thing there’s this radicchio, cucumber and dill salad. I made a noodle kugel. I have a house on a lake where we spent all of Covid. I cooked for something like 380 days in a row. About twice I said, Y’know, I don’t feel like cooking. I think I’ll just make myself scrambled eggs, and Jonathon (her Liverpudlian boyfriend)- would always happily have beans on toast.
- Do you think if you weren’t a writer, you’d want to be a cook?
No. Cooks get up at 5am to go to the market. They cook all day. They cook all night. They get home at 2. It’s different cooking for two people.
- OK so you wouldn’t want to be a cook, what do you think you wouId like to be if you weren’t a writer?
A lawyer on the side of right. I just finished jury duty three days ago, and I wanted to give the assistant district attorney a round of applause after his closing statement.
- Tell us something surprising about yourself?
Meeting Jonathan on Match.com, but people already know about that. (Lipman wrote Taking a Break for Friendship in the NY Times’ Modern Love about meeting Jonathan, her Liverpudlian beau)
Also, I was runner up for best actress at Lowell Highschool. I didn’t enjoy the acting. I had the lead in The Petrified Forest. I played Bette Davis. I had to kiss Michael Lemkin who played the Humphrey Bogart role. Sorry Michael. I didn’t enjoy that very much.
The rest of my Q&A can be found here on 26’s December newsletter. Wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. And if your holiday is less than wonderful – too much bubbly, too much family (both are best enjoyed in limited doses ), may I recommend you find a quiet spot with Ms. Demeanor. It did wonders for me.