In Calvin Trillin's antic tales of family life, she was portrayed as the wife who had "a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day" and the mother who thought that if you didn't go to every performance of your child's school play, "the county would come and take the child." Now, five years after her death, her husband offers this loving portrait of Alice Trillin off the page-his loving portrait of Alice Trillin off the page-an educator who was equally at home teaching at a university or a drug treatment center, a gifted writer, a stunningly beautiful and thoroughly engaged woman who, in the words of a friend, "managed to navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in."
Trillin (A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme), a staff writer with the New Yorker since 1963, has often written about the members of his family, notably his wife, Alice, whom he married in 1965. A graduate of Wellesley and Yale, she was a writer and educator who survived a 1976 battle with lung cancer. In 1981, she founded a TV production company, Learning Designs, producing PBS's Behind the Scenes to teach children creative thinking; her book Dear Bruno (1996) was intended to reassure children who had cancer. A weakened heart due to radiation treatments led to her death on September 11, 2001, at age 63. Avoiding expressions of grief, Trillin unveils a straightforward, honest portrait of their marriage and family life in this slim volume, opening with the suggestion that he had previously mischaracterized Alice when he wrote her into "stories that were essentially sitcoms." Looking back on their first encounter, he then focuses on her humor, her beauty, her "child's sense of wonderment," her relationship with her daughters and her concern for others. Trillin's 12-page "Alice, Off the Page" was published earlier this year in the New Yorker, and his expansion of his original essay into this touching tribute is certain to stir emotions. (Jan. 2) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 25, 2006
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Excerpt from About Alice by Calvin Trillin
Now that it's fashionable to reveal intimate details of married life, I can state publicly that my wife, Alice, has a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.
--Alice, Let's Eat
There was one condolence letter that made me laugh. Naturally, a lot of them made me cry. Some of those, oddly enough, were from people who had never met Alice. They had become familiar with her as a character in books and magazine pieces I'd written--light books and magazine pieces about traveling or eating or family life. Virtually all those letters began in the same way, with a phrase like "Even though I never really knew Alice...." I was certain of what Alice's response would have been. "They're right about that," she would have said. "They never knew me."
I once wrote that tales about writers' families tend to have a relation to real life that can be expressed in terms of standard network-television fare, on a spectrum that goes from sitcoms to Lifetime movies, and that mine were sitcoms. Now that I think of it, maybe they were more like the Saturday-morning cartoons. Alice played the role of the mom--the voice of reason, the sensible person who kept everything on an even keel despite the antics of her marginally goofy husband. Years ago, at a conference of English teachers where we were both speakers, the professor who did the introductions said something like "Alice and Bud are like Burns and Allen, except she's George and he's Gracie." Yes, of course, the role she played in my stories was based on the role she played in our family--our daughters and I sometimes called her T.M., which stood for The Mother--but she didn't play it in the broad strokes of a sitcom mom. Also, she was never completely comfortable as the person who takes responsibility for keeping things on an even keel; that person inevitably misses out on some of the fun. ("I feel the need to break out of the role of straight person," she said in a Nation review of Alice, Let's Eat that cautioned readers against abandoning long-planned European vacations in order to scour the country for "the perfect roast polecat haunch.") The sitcom presentation sometimes made her sound stern as well as wise, and she was anything but stern. She had something close to a child's sense of wonderment. She was the only adult I ever knew who might respond to encountering a deer on a forest path by saying, "Wowsers!"