Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman (NY: Random House, 2003).

Alice Thrift is an overworked surgical intern who has expended so much energy on becoming a doctor that she has overlooked the crucial fact that she lacks the people skills to be successful, a fact that's becoming more apparent each day of her internship. Her roommate Leo, a gregarious nurse in the neonatal unit, tries to clue her in, but Alice is socially inept.  She knows she has problems reading cues, so she turns down the overtures of one Ray Russo who comes in for a consult about getting a nose job. He claims to be a lonely widower, and Alice senses that there's something not right, but ends up calling him, just for the company, especially when Leo becomes involved with a midwife and Alice moves into her own studio apartment.  Alice's new neighbor, resident Sylvie Schwartz, also attempts to bolster Alice's social skills, but alas sleep deprivation leads Alice into a horrifying surgical mishap with a nasty surgeon, and Alice ends up on probation.  Meanwhile, Ray is leading Alice into untested carnal waters that are severely taxing Alice's limited social judgment.

This is a hilarious novel with a supremely well-drawn cast of characters.  Alice's complete lack of social skills and over reliance on her intellect put her in many strained situations, where she gives overly forthright answers instead of the socially expected half truths, to great comedic effect.  Her interactions with her mother are particularly fraught, as are her attempts to intellectualize her own social shortcomings.  Highly recommended for adult readers looking for both wit and depth of understanding.

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