"Nora Ephron" was the two-word answer to every ridiculous yet bizarrely persistent cliché concerning the ostensible fact that women
1. Have no sense of humor;
2. Have a sense of humor, but only if they are unattractive;
3. Have a sense of humor, but have no friends or family;
4. Have a sense of humor, but can never become successful based on their talents.
Ephron's fiercely intelligent wit and ruthless cultural commentary braided together engaging personal revelation with topics so large they made several generations of women re-evaluate their lives. Her heroines were witty and perceptive even while being vulnerable and appealing; they were independent and capable, yet filled with that weird fear of overdoing everything or doing everything wrong that engulfs the most stunningly competent woman.Her heroes were people, too. The male protagonists were as complex as their female counterparts. They, too, were smart and funny. They, too, were lovable -- sometimes a little too lovable by too many women simultaneously. But they were not billionaires, control freaks or macho-men who came to the rescue, a point she wonderfully pinpointed in an essay from Crazy Salad:
I have no desire to be dominated. Honestly I don't. And yet I find myself becoming angry when...my husband has trouble hailing a cab or flagger a waited, and suddenly I feel a kind of rage... I wish he were better at hailing than I am; on the other hand, I realize that expectation is culturally conditioned, utterly foolish, has nothing to do with anything, is exactly the kind of thinking that should be got rid of in our society; on still another hand, having that insight into my reaction does not seem to calm my irritation.
I have yet to meet one woman who, if sworn to speak on oath, could say she has no knowledge of that conflicted set of emotions in its entirety.
Ephron was one of those writers (like Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker and Jean Kerr) who understood that what women needed to do in order to write humor at its best was, quite simply, to tell the truth. Ephron did it with courage and with the authority of experience as informed by their own intelligence. And, to quote from the most important passage from Heartburn, why is it important to "turn everything into a story?"
So I told her why:
Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.
Ephron told more than her own story: she told our stories, too, and gave us permission to get on it with it. I wish her a bon voyage and I hope like hell she no longer feels sorry about her neck or anything else in the whole damned world.
Follow Gina Barreca on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TheGinaBarreca