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Book Reviews   |    
The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
Reviewed by Sarah Yasmin, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.12.1453
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by Elinor Lipman; New York, Random House, 2003, 288 pages, $23.95

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The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a contemporary novel by a Massachusetts writer, Elinor Lipman. Lipman has written many other novels—The Dearly Departed, The Ladies' Man, The Inn at Lake Devine, and Isabel's Bed, to name a few—and is a widely acclaimed author.

The blurb on the jacket describes the book as the story of a socially challenged surgical intern, Alice Thrift, and her romance with Ray Russo, "a purveyor of fairground fudge, in need of rhinoplasty and well-heeled companionship." As Alice navigates the waters of this romance she is ably assisted by two compatriots: Leo, a nurse, and Sylvie, a co-resident. On the basis of this synopsis alone I approached this book with some trepidation—the story seemed banal at best, and I must admit that on the first go, I put it down after the first chapter. However, when I picked it up again, I found myself drawn inexorably into the story and the characters.

Although the synopsis is accurate, it fails to grasp the depth of the story. When we first meet Alice, she has few social graces and even fewer friends. Into her lonely life comes Ray, who is able to see past the gawky exterior and appreciate the beautiful woman inside. He pursues her relentlessly, at times intelligently, and Alice, lonely soul that she is, finds herself drawn into a relationship with him. The advent of Ray helps Alice make new friends who are at times more meaningful to her than Ray is. The romance is really just a tool to show Alice's voyage of self-discovery, growth, and development of self-worth and confidence.

Lipman has done a great job walking us along this path of self-discovery with Alice. I found myself both liking and hating the characters, at times cheering for Alice while at others shaking my head in regret or even confusion. Lipman's writing style is light and humorous, although what I found most appealing was her wry undertone. She portrays human emotions very well, keeping them down to earth and allowing the reader to easily relate to them. Although the book flows well, I did feel that the ending was somewhat rushed.

All in all, this is a wonderful book that was fun to read. I would recommend it to anyone who has gone through a grueling residency—many things in this book will feel familiar—but also to anyone who wants to spend a few days with a witty, interesting, fun book.

Dr. Yasmin is affiliated with the department of psychiatry of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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