The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman: A-

From the back cover:
You can’t help but feel sorry for Alice Thrift, who has recently tumbled from the top of her Harvard Medical School class to the probationary wing of her student internship. It doesn’t help that her social skills cause her mother to suggest she might be slightly autistic. So when Ray Russo, a social-climbing purveyor of carnival fudge, dedicates himself to winning her adoration, Alice finds him impossible to resist. Now it’s up to her two best friends to help her toward the path of enlightenment.

This is the second book by Elinor Lipman that I’ve read, and it was as entertaining as the first. It was also similar in that it managed to be interesting without some fancy plot gimmick, excelled in “show don’t tell” writing, and featured a rather obnoxious character stirring up the lives of mild-mannered folk.

I particularly liked how Lipman handled the revelation of the character of her first person narrator. Rather than have her proclaim that she is socially inept, for example, she’d have her say something bizarre and point out the flaw through another character’s reaction: “Why do you sound like an anthropologist?”

Lipman also created fully-fleshed out characters. A good example was Ray Russo, the obnoxious character du jour. He’s a thoroughly repugnant guy. Some of the things he said were so odious to me that I had to take a break from the book for a minute. And yet, he also had good points: he defended Alice, he helped her to make friends in her building, and he didn’t expect her to be more gregarious than she was capable of being. I could easily see how Alice, though repulsed on the one hand, had trouble completely writing him off as a creep.

The development of Ray and Alice’s relationship is well done, though I was impatient to know what ultimately happened, and consequently found the gradual pace of Alice’s realizations to be frustrating. Also, though I appreciate the realism of all the awkwardness, sometimes it was just too uncomfortable to be a fun read.

I plan to read more by Lipman, but I have noticed that several other of her books also feature a somewhat meek protagonist encountering and being impacted by a more flamboyant new acquaintance. I worry that this repeated theme is going to become annoying.

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