Popular for sprightly if predictable romantic comedies (The Dearly Departed, 2001, etc.), 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.
All work and no play Alice Thrift is a Harvard-educated surgical intern at a Boston hospital. Ray Russo is an uneducated, coarse, and sleazy fudge salesman who also claims to be a widower. Alice begins her deadpan narration by quoting the New York Times description of their wedding, letting us know right off that the marriage has ended disastrously before she retraces their courtship. Ray enters her life looking for a nose job. That he immediately begins to pursue Alice raises immediate suspicions given Alice’s off-putting personality, which Lipman does almost too good a job conveying. Alice is book smart but lacks any bedside manner, sense of humor, or ability to interact with others. When she considers quitting medicine after being put on probation for falling asleep on the job, her roommate Leo, a charming and (of course) handsome male nurse, bucks her up with pep talks and pizza. She doesn’t resign, and she continues resisting Ray, who won’t take no for an answer. But Leo’s new girlfriend is a midwife who disdains doctors, so Alice moves into a studio apartment. She succumbs to Ray’s transparent seduction and begins having regular sex. Her job performance improves, she makes friends with her fellow doctor-in-training Sylvie. But needy Alice feels left out by Sylvie’s mild flirtation with Leo, who is squabbling with his now-pregnant girlfriend. In reaction she elopes with Ray. At the elaborate after-the-fact wedding, Alice discovers Ray’s “dead wife” is in fact a living girlfriend. Without breaking any laws, Ray has bamboozled her out of money, but she is wiser, and also happier, living now in a three-bedroom apartment with Sylvie and Leo (who may have potential as more than pal).
A clever sweet tart, more tart that sweet.