The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003)

by Elinor Lipman

Can being conned be good for you?

Before Ray Russo came into her life, Alice Thrift was a surgical intern in Boston with a brusque bedside manner, low self-esteem, and almost no friends. After Russo — a fudge salesman eager for the income and prestige of a wife with an M.D. — has wooed, wedded, and left Alice, she has not only grown in empathy and self-understanding but also in friends and medical skills.

Author Elinor Lipman tells us almost immediately that Ray was a con man and the marriage didn't last, so there is no surprise except trying to figure out how Alice fell for a loudmouth whom everyone else could see through. As Lipman unfolds the tale of Alice's loneliness and the stress of an intern's unforgiving, brutal existence, Alice's reckless actions seem somewhat sensical. That's also partly because Ray isn't all bad. Whether or not his words are sincere, Alice improves as Ray says just what she needs to hear.

Of course, eventually Ray's true motives are exposed, but Alice emerges hardly the worse for wear.

This is the eighth book from a woman who writes with both wit and wisdom. It is populated with wonderful characters, including the charming male nurse roommate Alice found through an ad; a spike-haired chief resident; and Alice's mother, who wants her daughter to be her soulmate. There are also very funny scenes; in one of the best, the nasty, arrogant physician who tried to have Alice canned ruptures a disc in the bed of Alice's neighbor, a medical resident.

Lipman has been called a modern-day Jane Austen. Whether she (or anyone) merits that comparison, Lipman does possess an easy style and the ability to communicate insight with humor. She has been turning out a new novel every few years and may be one of the best author finds for those looking for upbeat novels.


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