Ephron’s style, throughout her journalism, her essays, her plays, and her screenplays, was beautifully smart and, most importantly, unpretentious. She wrote like she was talking to you, and that’s what’s so endearing about reading her writing: it still feels, two years after her death, like your friend is telling you a really great story. That story makes you feel better, because you can relate to the pain and the anguish she’s sharing with you.
Suddenly — a year after that period I spent watching Heartburn on repeat while lying on my friend’s couch, unable to sleep from the anxiety of a broken heart — I feel a lot better about still feeling pretty bitter that I had my heart broken in the first place. After all, Nora Ephron published Heartburn three years after her breakup. That’s not because she couldn’t get over it, or was embarrassed about airing out her personal, emotional indignities years later; it’s because writing the book was part of the process of getting over that grief, of owning her story and integrating that pain into her identity, which any good therapist would say is the only way to get over a trauma.
Rachel puts it very plainly in the last pages of the novel, in a meeting with her therapist, Vera, weeks after she leaves Mark and Washington for good.
Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?” So I told her why: Because if I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much. Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.
At the risk of sounding like a lame Twitter bio, I’m going to quote Joan Didion: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That quote is concise enough to fit into 140 characters, for sure, but Nora Ephron had the bravery to apply its sentiment to real life. She persisted in being open and brutally honest about why she did what she did: for herself. Anyone can read Heartburn and see a bit of themselves in Rachel Samstat — and that especially goes for anyone who has felt betrayed or left broken because of someone else’s careless actions. But Ephron didn’t write the book for us; she did it for herself. That we got to share it, well, that just makes us a little bit luckier.