A Fast, Fun Screwball Comic Novel from Elinor Lipman
It’s not easy to pull off a screwball romantic comedy on the page. Unlike in a movie, you can’t rely on charming actors with their perfect timing to help tell a story that’s both funny and endearing. However, author Elinor Lipman is a master at it, and her latest comedic novel Good Riddance is a smart delight.
Lipman’s 10-plus novels often rely upon a device to set the plot wheels in motion, sometimes a found object that changes the protagonist’s course. Her 2017 novel On Turpentine Lane did this, as does Good Riddance. Daphne Maritch’s mother bequests her heavily annotated 1968 yearbook to her after passing away. Daphne, a budding chocolatier and duped divorcee, promptly KonMaries it to a recycling bin in her NYC apartment building. Geneva, an obnoxious documentary filmmaker, finds it. She then sloppily tries to turn trash into treasure by digging into the lives of Daphne’s mother and her classmates.
“I’m intellectually curious. I’m interested in Americana. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t pick it up,” she declares after Daphne yells that she shouldn’t have taken it. I can kind of see her point. At the very least, that explains the audience for a lot of podcasts.
In the midst of trying to stop Geneva, Daphne learns a whopper of a family secret that she isn’t sure she wants to manage. She also falls into a budding romance with her neighbor Jeremy, a bit actor on the TV show Riverdale. Jeremy wears fake braces to pass as a teenager, but is still an intriguing romantic lead. Complicating things even more, Daphne’s widowed father has also just moved to Manhattan and is dating a woman he met on his new job as a dogwalker. All of these events and personalities are a bit nuts, as befits a screwball comedy, and Lipman deftly manages to make the story both funny and poignant.
I especially enjoyed the witty and snappy dialogue. Like when Daphne is upset with Jeremy because he has a date and he says:
“She’s an adjunct professor. Something against adjunct professors?”
“Adjunct means she pops in once or twice a week to teach one class and borrows someone else’s desk for her office hours. What’s her field?”
Fans of classic movies like Bringing Up Baby will love this story, as will readers who enjoyed the wit and characters in the hit novel French Exit (soon to be a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer.) Good Riddance is a fast, fun read with a lot of intelligence. Who knew a discarded yearbook could be so much fun?
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb. 5, 2019)