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Book review: What Nora Knew almost out-Ephrons Ephron

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What Nora Knew


Laughing-out-loud funny, What Nora Knew explores what the heck storyteller-scriptwriter Nora Ephron was trying to tell her audience.

Author Linda Yellin does that in the guise of feature writer Molly Hallberg (who really wants her own column with a photo at the top). But meanwhile she also delves into the lives and times of Molly’s overly-perfumed editor; the smug, back-stabbing book reviewer in the next cubicle; writers who sneak off with ideas divulged in innocent conversation; and Molly’s chiropractor boyfriend, overly sensitive to any hint that he is not a real doctor (later on, he takes up with a mattress salesclerk who understands him and is a better networking bet).

Molly is hired away from a lesser gig because her gutsy piece about her well-known ex caught Deirdre-the-editor’s eye. So, asked to do an article on romance reminiscent of, say, Nora Ephron, Molly finds herself in a quandary. Later articles have her getting background by taking lessons with the Rockettes and parachute-jumping. As a desperate last-minute alternative choice, she finds herself on a panel at the 92nd Street Y not sure when to speak up.

Molly’s parents still live on Long Island and have conversations like those of the sweet older couples in “When Harry Meets Sally.” But they give her some good advice about the guy she has been avoiding through most of the book. Molly, of course, wants nothing from the family upholstery company (all four generations worth of it), but on the other hand, Dad nails it when he pronounces that same guy sincere. Molly’s been wondering for some 100 pages.

“Sleepless in Seattle” doesn’t escape Yellin’s sharp--but compassionate-- eye, either. She makes the now-pronounced-sincere guy (he’s even a writer with signed books to his name) afraid of heights and unable to go up in an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building to finally meet with Molly in a new light. Spoiler alert here: Does it matter? Among other things, that’s what Nora knew.

If the devil is in the details, this book is at the very least impish. Events and people may not be all good in the fast-paced life of journalists, but a lot of them are imitated by art. Or the other way around.

Linda Chalmer Zemel also writes the Buffalo Alternative Medicine column. She teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College and would love to see her book, Witch Hunt, made into a movie. She is the publisher and editor of Person, Place, Thing, a literary journal.