Summary and book reviews of The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

By Elinor Lipman

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jun 2003,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2004,
    304 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Meet poor Alice Thrift, surgical intern in a Boston hospital, high of I.Q. but low in social graces. She doesn't mean to be acerbic, clinical, or painfully precise, but where was she the day they taught Bedside Manner 101? Into Alice's workaholic and romantically challenged life comes Ray Russo, a purveyor of fairground fudge, in need of rhinoplasty and well-heeled companionship, not necessarily in that order. Is he a con man or a sincere suitor? Good guy or bad? His well-engineered cruise into carnal waters introduces Alice to a new and baffling concept, chemistry—and not of the organic kind. Is it possible for a woman of science to cure her own loneliness in the unsuitable arms of a parental nightmare? Luckily, Leo Frawley, R.N., who has a high threshold for Alice's left-footed people skills, and Sylvie Schwartz, M.D., fellow resident and woman of the world, take on the task of guiding Alice through the narrow straits of her own no-rapport zone.

"Almost nobody writes serious entertainment with more panache," said the Chicago Tribune of Elinor Lipman. Now comes the novel Publishers Weekly is calling "surely her best to date...a triumph...a book you can't put down."

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift showcases a rare and generous talent at the top of her witty, irresistible form.

Chapter 1
Tell the Truth

You may have seen us in "Vows" in The New York Times: me, alone, smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles, and a larger blurry shot of us, postceremony, ducking and squinting through a hail of birdseed. We didn't have pretty faces or interesting demographics, but we had met and married in a manner that was right for SundayStyles: Ray Russo came to my department for a consultation. I said what I always said to a man seeking rhinoplasty: Your nose is noble, even majestic. It has character. It gives you character. Have you thought this through?

The Times had its facts right: We met as doctor and patient. I digitally enhanced him, capped his rugged, haunted face with a perfect nose and symmetrical, movie-star nostrils—and he didn't like what he saw on the screen. "Why did I come?" he wondered aloud, in a manner that suggested depth. "Did I expect this would make me handsome?"

"It's the way we've been socialized," I said.

"It's not ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift opens with the announcement of a marriage and its ultimate failure. Does knowing the outcome spoil the narrative journey in any way?

  2. Alice always expresses herself in literal and clinical terms. How does the author maintain a comedic tone while her narrator is, essentially, tactless and devoid of humor?

  3. No one around Alice can understand what she sees in Ray Russo. How much of that universal disapproval is based on class differences? What facts did the author slip onto Ray's figurative résumé to prejudice his case?

  4. Reviewers have noted Elinor Lipman's "fondness for inviting peripheral characters along with their numerous subplots and intrigues to have their say." Which characters in The ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Snappy wit, a clever plot and the sheer fun of a book you can't put down await readers.

Kirkus Reviews

Popular for sprightly if predictable romantic comedies, Lipman stretches her boundaries in her newest by letting readers know early on that her lovers will not end up happily every after-at least not together.....A clever sweet tart, more tart that sweet.

Library Journal

At first, Alice comes off as an unsympathetic character, but the more she tries to deal with the world as a detached, clinical observer (and the more she fails), the more sympathetic she becomes.

Booklist - Neal Wyatt

Whimsical, heartwarming, and engaging...allow Lipman to do her magic, and the results are as expected--funny, pitch perfect, and utterly charming.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
About the best trick any writer can possess is the ability to make everything look easy, even to other writers who know better. Elinor Lipman possesses this gift in spades, and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift treats head, heart, and funny bone with equal respect.

Author Blurb Tom Perrotta, author of Election
The Pursuit of Alice Thrift isn't just beautifully written and bustling with memorable characters and rich in wisdom about the human heart—it's also hilarious and full of surprises. Elinor Lipman is a masterful novelist working at the top of her game.

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife
Elinor Lipman writes with perfect pitch. I started to underline all the bits of Alice Thrift that either amazed or tickled me, but I finally had to quit there were simply too many.

Author Blurb Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone
In this, the age of bogus Joe Millionaires and Barbie Doll bachelorettes, Elinor Lipman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift dares to pose the question Can the frumpy physician find happiness with the unctuous fudgemonger? The answer is, in equal measures, heartfelt and hilarious. Let Joe and Barbie live happily ever after. Lipman writes for the rumpled rest of us. I love this book.

Author Blurb Stacy Schiff, author of Véra
This is Elinor Lipman's best novel yet, which I do realize is like saying that Krispy Kreme has finally manufactured an addictive donut.

Author Blurb Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries
Elinor Lipman's latest novel brings together the rare combination of intelligence, wit, and wisdom. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a jewel of a book.

Reader Reviews
Wallace from

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman
Type: Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with
Rating: I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!

Reasons to Read It:
You are a fan of Elinor Lipman (this will not disappoint)
You enjoy subtle humor
Fleshed out characters are meaningful to you...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member

Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes

Books with similar themes

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"

    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.