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A Bud in Spring

Filed under: Eustace Google

I've been urging a friend to read Calvin Trillin's March 27 tribute to his late wife, Alice, and just looked for the link. It's not online, but Rebecca Traister wrote a Salon story about her love of Trillin and of Trillin's love for Alice:

But whatever my admiration for [Calvin Trillin's] whole body of work, the core of why I love Trillin has been the way he wrote about Alice.... As Trillin has written and many others observed, she was George to his Gracie, the affable killjoy who (tried to) forbid him more than three meals a day. I also think I imagined being Alice myself: having so curious and silly a mate to frolic around the country with, playing the stern disciplinarian while clearly having the time of my life, not to mention scoring a husband who loved me so enthusiastically that that love jumped from the page like an overeager Labrador, knocking over anyone who happened to be giggling over one of his books.

Perhaps that's it -- I grew up loving Alice because her husband loved her so eloquently. But whatever it was, I surely loved her.
And so, when I saw this week's New Yorker story, "Alice, Off the Page," I settled down to read it quietly, privately, at home. Imagine my surprise upon discovering -- within the first few paragraphs of Trillin's 12-page remembrance -- that I was not the only person who loved Alice, who mourned her passing, or who admired her marriage without having met her or her husband. He writes of getting condolence cards from many people who never knew her, including one from a young woman in New York who wrote that sometimes she looked at her boyfriend and wondered, "But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?" (She evidently didn't feel comfortable calling him Bud, either.)

Imagine my further surprise, and abashment, upon reading Trillin's speculation about what Alice would say to all those sympathetic correspondents who had encountered her only in his pages: "They're right about that ... they never knew me." Gulp. She -- as invoked by her husband -- is right. I never knew her. I had fallen for the matriarch in what Trillin describes as a sitcom version of his marriage. And I had thought she was real.

The self-flagellation over, I read on. And what I found was Trillin's endeavor to bring her to life more completely than he did in what he feels were his caricatured broad strokes.

Here's the whole story. If you haven't read the New Yorker piece, go back and find it. It's stark and well-made and surprising and generous and lonely. Trillin doesn't mention that Alice happened to die on September 11, 2001; the story of her spark, stance, words, work, setbacks, and his struggle to find his feet again after her death, speaks for itself. It's still making me sad.


i agree. this article alone made me renew my subscription to the new yorker.

AnonymousMay 22, 2006

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