An adoring biography of Nora Ephron (1941-2012) explores her motivations as a writer and a feminist.
Washington Post columnist Cohen (Israel: Is It Good for the Jews?, 2014, etc.) first met Ephron in 1968 through their mutual friend Post journalist Carl Bernstein, who became Ephron’s second husband. Their friendship deepened and lasted more than 40 years, until her death by cancer, an illness largely kept secret from her other friends and the public. In this gracious, elegant eulogy to his friend, Cohen endearingly suggests that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, feeling his way as he goes along, sounding other friends and acquaintances for memories. He reveals charming vulnerabilities about Ephron as well as traits, such as her evident delight in name-dropping and hanging with the A-list, that don’t necessarily make her lovable to readers. Ephron was, above all, a fearless writer, from her college years at Wellesley to her early elbow-sharpening jobs at the New York Post and Esquire, where there were few women mentors and she learned to write fast and sharp amid a newsroom of rough-and-tumble men. She was feared for her frankness, and her targets included Bernstein, skewered in her biting post-marriage sendup Heartburn (both book and film). Ephron’s segue from screenwriter to director seemed natural, as she had been studying at the feet of friend Mike Nichols since their collaboration on Silkwood. Her film Sleepless in Seattle would became a kind of schmaltzy classic; ditto You’ve Got Mail and her final screenplay, Julie and Julia. Cohen captures a brilliant woman full of contradictions: she was a “girlie girl” and homemaker, queen of dinner parties and also a fierce feminist, yet insecure about her looks, the size of her breasts, and her inevitable aging neck—all of which she examined in her provocative writing.
A warm tribute to a rather bossy know-it-all companion in arms who was hugely talented and fiercely devoted.