In the early days of their romance, Delia and Peter take trips (she to his coast, he to hers), exchange the most romantic of texts and emails, buy a Ping-Pong table they can fit into their apartment only by moving out the dining room table. Ephron’s story is inspiring for all of us out there whose romantic lives or longings will never be the stuff of a big-box-office romantic comedy. The AARP crowd.
Then comes her diagnosis.
Delia’s oncologist treats her with a new experimental drug that puts her into remission. When the remission fails, the only remaining option is a brutally painful stem cell transplant that has her begging to die.
Here’s where the memoir veers, somewhat problematically, into the realm of medical procedural — a paean to heroic doctors, medical miracles. Peter remains, throughout, the most stalwart and devoted partner, so much so that every nurse writes “husband on duty” in her notes.
“You are not your sister” is a refrain of Delia’s story — as it may have been throughout her life. She reminds herself that Nora’s death from leukemia does not ensure the same outcome for her. For one thing, Nora Ephron kept her long illness a secret from virtually everyone but her closest friends, almost to the end, where Delia eventually invites her legions of friends into her world.
If I have an issue with the memoir, it arises from the same quality that makes Delia Ephron come across as a singularly likable and bighearted person. Every page contains fresh accounts of wonderful, kind acts by a long cast of characters — hat tips to her hairdresser, old friends visited in Wales, neighbors in their apartment building, the woman behind the counter at the bakery, the stem cell donor — whose names and stories I had a hard time keeping straight. Ephron fills the latter half of her book with their loving but not particularly memorable notes to her, reprinted in their entirety.
The character who shines through in Ephron’s story is Peter, of course. As the couple’s story draws to a close, with Ephron’s health restored, she leaves us with a great movie moment: Peter walking a lovable new puppy on West 10th Street. Didion — who gave us “Play It as It Lays” — might have pointed her lens toward a darker, more caustic image. But let’s not forget, Delia Ephron is part of the team who created “You’ve Got Mail.” If there’s such a thing as a feel-good memoir, this is it.