Books

About Alice

By Calvin Trillin

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A columnist for The Nation and staffer at the New Yorker, Calvin Trillin is perhaps most widely known for his essays on food, which humorously describe his voracious eating habits and the great lengths to which he'll go to find the perfect meal. Trillin's wife Alice appears in many of his writings as a long-suffering figure who by turns indulges his bottomless appetite and imposes dietary restrictions in an attempt to keep him from turning into a total fatass. Published five years after Alice suffered a fatal cardiac arrest, About Alice both chronicles Trillin's love affair with his wife and sets the record straight about what kind of person she really was.

The slim volume is about Alice herself, not about how Trillin was affected by losing her—to that end, the book reads more like a biography than anything else. Alice was not, Trillin tells us, the "dietitian in sensible shoes" who appears so frequently in his food writing, but in fact a sexy, intelligent, vital woman whom he had the unbelievable good fortune to marry.

He doesn't dwell on her death; in fact, her rapid sickness and decline aren't described until the last three pages of the book. Most of the work is devoted to capturing Alice on paper, and the book is infused with the strangeness that comes in trying to describe someone you love very, very much.

Like Joan Didion's painful memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, which dealt with the unexpected death of her husband, Trillin's homage to his dead spouse is all the more powerful because it is so restrained. The book may be restrained, but it doesn't lack emotional resonance: The person that Trillin describes with such affection and respect is dead, after all. The emotional effect of this collection of anecdotes and remembrances is cumulative. The first story about Alice probably won't destroy you, and neither will the second, but chances are that if you're a crier you will spontaneously burst into loud sobs at some point during the book's 78 pages. Though Trillin refrains from wallowing in self-pity, it's nonetheless impossible not to pity him, for the loss of the woman who is here so lovingly and meticulously described.

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