Nora Ephron: journalist, essayist, novelist, screenwriter. There’s no writing medium she didn’t conquer. And through it all was the Ephron aphorism “everything is copy,” meaning: if you suffer a trauma, use it. Any slight, any sadness, any bad day–just channel it onto the page and not only will you experience release, but probably a piece of prose that’s more meaningful than most of the schlock that gets slung around via the internet on a daily basis.
The pinnacle of Ephron’s firm belief in this ism was, of course, her 1983 novel, Heartburn. Exploring in all its gory details the breakup of her marriage to Carl Bernstein through the lens of the characters, food writer Rachel Samstat and political journalist Mark Feldman, Ephron lays everything out on the literary table with lines like, “I had gotten on the shuttle to New York a few hours after discovering the affair, which I learned about from a really disgusting inscription from my husband in a book of children’s songs she had given him. Children’s songs. ‘Now you can sing these songs to Sam’ was part of the disgusting inscription, and I can’t begin to tell you how it sent me up the wall, the idea of my two-year-old child my baby, involved in some dopey inscriptive way in this affair between my husband, a fairly short person, and Thelma Rice, a fairly tall person with a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs, never mind her feet, which are sort of splayed.”
It is this blighting tone, this unbridled contempt one can feel bursting forth from the page that made Ephron so memorable as a writer. Reading her work always gets one into “her specific skin.” We feel the slight the way she does, and it is precisely because of her genuine belief in the “everything is copy” mantra.
As much feared as she was respected and lauded, one never knew if he or she might end up the subject of one of Ephron’s works. To know her was like a game of Russian roulette, and you might end up on the wrong side of the gun that was her proverbial pen. Unlike, say, an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Truman Capote type, there was greater accessibility to Ephron’s work–more relatability perhaps, in part, because of less floweriness–no mincing of words through euphemisms, allusions or metaphors.
It has been said, in fact, that it was precisely because she wasn’t a “genius” writer that she was so beloved. Her openness and blunt style is what made Ephron one of the greats, someone that anyone who has had a bad experience in love or work identify with. She hid nothing (except her diagnosis with acute myeloid leukemia in 2006) from her readers, and this is what bequeathed her with a level of mutual trust between her and the person enjoying her work. If more writers could have the bravery to truly adhere to “everything is copy” rather than dancing around their issues and experiences for the sake of literary embellishment, the current landscape of the “fiction” novel would be much better off.