Excerpt from The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

by Elinor Lipman

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 288 pages
    Apr 2004, 304 pages

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Reading between the lines, and knowing the outcome, you'd think something was ignited in that consultation, a spark between us, but I wasn't one of those attractive doctors with a stethoscope draped around her shoulders and a red silk blouse under her lab coat. I was an unhappy intern, plain and no-nonsense at best, and hoping to perform only noble procedures once I'd finished my residency, my fellowship, my board certification—to reconstruct the soft tissue of poor people, to correct their birth defects, their cleft lips and palates, their cranial deformities, their burns, their mastectomies, to stitch up their torn flesh in emergency rooms so that no scar would force them to relive their horrible accidents. I'd hand off to my less idealistic and more affluent associates the nose jobs, the liposuctions, the face-lifts, the eye and tummy tucks, the breast augmentations, and all cosmetic procedures that make the marginally attractive beautiful.

Ray Russo should have consulted someone who would graduate from the program and set up a suite of sleek offices in a big city. I wished him well and sent him home with the four-color brochure that covers the gruesome steps of rhinoplasty.

Why did I take his phone call six months later? Because I didn't remember him. He dropped the name of my chairman, which made me think he was a friend of that august family—as if he'd sensed I was worried about my standing in the department and my ambivalence toward my then chosen field. Of course, I am summarizing for narrative convenience. Why go into detail about our history, our motivation, our sweet moments, if I'm going to break your heart soon enough? I could add that I have a mother who worries about me, a mother whose motto is "Go for a cup of coffee. It doesn't mean you have to marry him," but I'm not blaming her. This is about the weak link in my own character—wishful thinking—and a husband of short duration with a history of bad deeds.

If I sound bitter, I apologize. "Vows" should revisit their brides and grooms a year later, or five or ten. I'd enjoy that on a Sunday morning—scanning the wedding announcements stenciled with updates: not speaking. divorced. separated. annulled. cheating on him with the pool-maintenance guy. gave birth 5 months later. in counseling. came out of the closet—any number of interesting developments that reveal the truth about brides and grooms. Ray's and mine could have multiple stamps, like an expired passport. It could say didn't last the honeymoon or should have known better. Or, across his conniving forehead, above that hideous nose, succinctly and aptly, liar.

Chapter 2
Later Classified as Our First Date

Raymond Russo's self-improvement campaign began with a stroke of Las Vegas luck: He won a free teeth-bleaching, upper and lower arches, in a dentist's lottery. It explained his too-easy grin and his drinking coffee through a straw during what would later be classified as our first date. We were side by side, on stools at the Friendly's in the lobby of my hospital. Conversation was stalled on my medical degree, which evoked something close to reverence, expressed in boyish, gee-whiz fashion, as if he'd never encountered such a miraculous career trajectory. Was it not flattering? Was I not psychologically pummeled every day? Insulted by evaluations that described my performance as workmanlike and my people skills as hypothermic? Was I not ready for someone, anyone, to utter words of admiration?

"I can't be the only woman doctor you've ever met," I said. "You must have gone to college with women who went on to medical school."

"Believe it or not, I didn't."

"There are thousands of us," I said. "Maybe millions. A third of my medical school class were women."

"Well, keep it coming," he said. "I know I was happy when you walked into the examining room. It helped me more than some guy saying, ‘Your nose is fine the way it is.' I might have thought he wanted to keep me homely—you know—to reduce the competition."

Excerpted from The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman Copyright© 2003 by Elinor Lipman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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