Monday, September 11, 2006

I Feel Bad about Nora Ephron

Some years ago I had a novel, Romance, coming out at the same time as Heartburn, Nora Ephron's less than heavily-disguised roman a clef about the end of her marriage to Carl Bernstein. As the novelist who had become, alas, the landmark libel case in Fiction, (Bindrim vs. Mitchell,) I was booked onto the CBS Morning Show with Ms. Ephron. Though it was agreed within the writing and publishing community that my case had been ridiculous-- the plaintiff being a trendy California psychologist who said he was the therapist in my novel, Touching, grew a beard and gained weight to appear more like that character, alleging I had ruined his nude encounter business by looking at it with a scathing eye--Imagine!-- and The New York Times after it was all over quoted several prominent lawyers who deemed the decision "an aberration," one that would have never stood in New York where they better understood what fiction was, the case itself threatened to doom my career. The prospect of appearing on TV, bright as I still seemed to be at the time, and lively, promised me a chance at Redemption, not to mention life for my novel.
The day before the show, I was called by Shirley Wershba, the producer, to tell me that Nora Ephron's publisher had said if I was on the show, Nora would not appear. So I lost the best chance I had to promote the novel I wrote in spite of the huge setbacks, professional, emotional, and monetary I had suffered.
Still, I wrote on. ("They could cut off your arms," Gay Talese said generously, "and you would write with your stumps. They could cut off your legs and you'd crawl. All you have to do is decide not to die and you'll live forever.") But the novels after that had a hard time finding a home. ("There's a cloud over this writer," Don Fine, my last great maverick publisher, head of Arbor House, was told when he took my novel to market for paperback sale, which never happened.)
From time to time I would try moving back to New York, home of "serious" writing. I loved writers, and having suffered the isolation of being a novelist in Los Angeles, I was searching for 'community.' "Do your work," said Jules Feiffer, a trusted friend, "and your community will find you." Said Annie Navasky, delightful wife of The Nation's brilliant publisher. Victor, “He forgot to add ‘provided you are wildly successful.'"
Needless to say, I wasn't. But in the meantime I had entered the land of Everything Happens for a Reason. As Nora Ephron herself said in a recent interview, if it hadn't been for her unfortunate--as it turned out-- marriage to Mr. Bernstein, she wouldn';t have her house in the Hamptons, not to mention.. it did seem an afterthought... her two wonderful boys.
If I hadn't been booked on the Morning Show, I wouldn't have the friendship of Shirley Wershba, one of the great television journalists, along with her husband Joe(see 'Good Night and Good Luck',) a connection made more intense by my having been elbowed off the air. As it turned out, Shirley cancelled the whole segment, as she wasn't about to have a booking dictated by a publisher, especially since she had envisioned it as a stimulating literary discussion about romans a clef. Had the program gone ahead as originally conceived, I might have been witty on the air, maybe even clever, and my novel might have taken off, so the dark shadow of the lawsuit might have been erased by light. But then, if I had been more successful in placing my next six books (see Mr. Talese, above) I might have become spoiled and rotten and lazy and complacent, and not risen to the life worth examining, (see Socrates) and some(I hope) true perspective on what constitutes success, nor been in tune for today's #13 on The Times' Best Seller list, Overcoming Life's Disappointments.
Still, I have not evolved enough not to feel a bit of a twinge in my spirit at seeing at #1, Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck. How charmingly she wrote in Heartburn about faithless man's inhumanity to woman. But where has she addressed the issue of woman's inhumanity to her fellow woman?