Delia Ephron’s Left on Tenth book review



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The name of Delia Ephron’s new memoir, “Left on Tenth,” not only provides directions to Ephron’s New York apartment, but also provides a poignant play on words. Jerry, Ephron’s 35-year-old husband, died of cancer in that apartment in 2015. Ephron was left a widow on 10th Street. As titles go, it’s an impressive combination of witty, sad, and memorable – just like the book itself.

Jerry’s death is where the story begins, with an elaborate, chaotic scene featuring a late fall, a no-CPR order, and an argument with a crew of EMTs, followed by a few hours of uneasy rest. Finally, Jerry slips out before dawn and quietly loses consciousness with no one watching.

So we know from the get-go that while this may be the same woman who co-wrote classic rom-com lyrics like “You’ve Got Mail,” we can rest assured that she’s not romanticizing life’s big moments. Monumental as they are, they’re often messy, confusing, and oddly timed — and Ephron will be honest about it.

Ephron lost Jerry just three years after the death of her older sister and creative collaborator, filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron. Delia commemorated Nora in her 2013 essay collection ‘Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.)’. “Left on Tenth” represents not only her next chapter in grief, but also a tougher reckoning with mortality. A year after Jerry’s death, Ephron developed acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the same disease that killed her sister.

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In a plot twist worthy of a movie, Ephron’s illness overlaps with a newfound love. She had just dated a psychiatrist named Peter, who contacted her by email after reading a touching and hilarious op-ed about her attempts to cancel Jerry’s Verizon service. In another coincidence, it turns out that Peter and Delia already knew each other, although she had forgotten it. They’d been on a few dates in college, set up by none other than Nora. After a whirlwind romance and some lengthy conversations about “what it meant to start something intense and meaningful at this age…when death is right in front of us”, they decide to get married in the hospital as she begins treatment for aml.

But Ephron doesn’t hide this story, remember? Things get dark.

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At her lowest point, depressed and exhausted after a stem cell transplant, Ephron feels “deep in my bones a despair, an isolation from everyone, a wish to be dead.” Sometimes people call dying calling it home, but that wording just doesn’t work for her. She does not believe in life after death; so staying alive here in the physical realm is the only way she can to be† No wonder she fights so hard to get back from the brink and hold on to her earthly home – to return to that tenth apartment, now occupied by this new man she loves, and to countless loving friendships which she calls “little houses.” †

Breaking sentences and phrases into speaking rhythms, Ephron encourages us not so much to see her prose on the page as to hear a story told in her voice. Her writing often yields such charming Ephron-isms when meeting her new doctor for the first time: “My first thought when she walked into the small clinic room was She could be my sister. She definitely came from the same food group. Dark hair, brown eyes, slim, Jewish.” Same food group!

As she invites readers into her memories, Ephron shares snippets of emails and text messages, instilling a sense of intimacy, as if we were just the newest members of her circle of friends and loved ones. If one day I hear that someone I know has AML, I might blurt out, “My friend Delia had that,” before I remember, wait a minute, I’ve never met Delia Ephron.

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Over the past half decade, several wonderful memoirs have been published by the Dying – Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air”, Nina Riggs “The Bright Hour” and Julie Yip-Williams “The Unwinding of the Miracle”, to name a few. Compared to those books, it might be tempting to say that Ephron’s book has a happier ending.

Well, yes. Ephron reached the other side of her illness, a vantage point from which she could look back and write her story with a perspective that those writers didn’t have. But she also never loses sight of the fact that while a book’s ending can be considered happy or sad, depending on where the plot ends, sooner or later we’re all heading for the same ending.

When a doctor explains the low success rate of aggressive treatment, Ephron contradicts: “Peter and I just fell in love.” This is one of the heartbreaking scenes that connects her story with the stories of those deceased writers. What is true in the moment always remains agonizingly true: that even the colossal power of love in the end does not delay anyone.

But while death saturates this book, it is far from a damper. On the contrary, it is a pleasure. While Ephron honors the true depths of fear, disease, and grief, she also celebrates with humor and awe the great fortune of small sensations: a tarte Tatin eaten at her favorite cafe; a stroll through a market with her lover; a funny email from a friend; her hair grew back after the chemo, wild and uncontrollable.

Such is the uniquely beautiful magic of this particular writer’s memoir about this particular area of ​​her life. When she examines “life and death closely in focus, side by side,” she reminds us that darkness makes the light seem even brighter.

Mary Laura Philpott is the most recent author of Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives.

Small, brown. 304 pp. $29.99

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