RIP Alison Lurie, Pulitzer-winning novelist, 1926 - 2020
December 3, 2020 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Alison Lurie, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who blended mordant wit and boundless empathy to chronicle the lives of women searching for self-knowledge and self-fulfillment while going about the business of everyday life, died Dec. 3 at a hospice facility in Ithaca, N.Y. She was 94. The death was confirmed by her husband, Edward Hower. He did not cite a specific cause. posted by Multicellular Exothermic (21 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

How sad. I read Foreign Affairs for the first time a few months before the pandemic and thought it was just brilliant.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ninety-four is a very ripe old age, but I still exclaimed, "Oh no!" when I saw this post. Lurie was still writing -- she published Words and Worlds: From Autobiographies to Zippers in 2019 -- and I was hoping for just one more of her novels. I've been a big Lurie fan since my late teens, own copies of most of her books, and have the rest of them on my wish list.
posted by orange swan at 9:31 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Her Imaginary Friends is one of my favorite novels, and seeing her name on the cover of a Golden Age NYR, as I did gratifyingly often, excited greater anticipation than anyone else's.
posted by jamjam at 10:15 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by valkane at 11:36 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by Bella Donna at 3:31 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Her current Wikipedia entry (a very feeble effort which doesn't even include a full list of her novels) belittles her with faint praise and more than a hint of sexism:
Lurie's novels, with their light touch and focus on portraying the emotions of well-educated adulterers, bear more resemblance to some 20th-century British authors, (such as Kingsley Amis and David Lodge) rather than to the big American authors of her generation. A 2003 profile of Lurie, styled as a review of her Boys and Girls Forever, a work of criticism, observed that Lurie's works are often "witty and astute comedies of manners".
Lurie's novels always remind me of Graham Greene's remark about the splinter of ice in the heart of the writer. Her novels are comic and chilling at the same time. They are etched in acid. And I think they will stand the test of time a lot better than most of the 'big American authors of her generation', whoever they may be. Mailer? Updike? The War Between the Tates is a better portrait of Vietnam-era America than anything Updike ever wrote.

I particularly admire Familiar Spirits, her memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson. Though written about real people and real events, it falls into the shape of a novel as it gradually shifts from comedy to tragedy.
posted by verstegan at 4:28 AM on December 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

The haunting last words of Familiar Spirits:
How much should one risk for art? What chances should one take? Should one seek productive derangements of the mind (by drink, drugs, sleeplessness, passion)? Should one investigate risky ideas -- form intense relationships with charismatic but possibly unreliable gurus, or with voices that may be those of demons? And what about using, or using up, not only your own life but also those of your friends and lovers?

If you take no chances, make no sacrifices, and reject the irrational in any form, how can you ever 'make it new'? And if you decide to take these chances, will the end justify the means? Unfortunately, we cannot know the answer to any of these questions until long, long afterwards.
Calling Lurie a comic novelist is like calling Jane Austen a miniaturist.
posted by verstegan at 5:04 AM on December 4, 2020 [10 favorites]

posted by dlugoczaj at 6:15 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by LobsterMitten at 7:38 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am sorry to hear of her passing but, on the other hand, glad and grateful to find out she lived and wrote for do long.
posted by y2karl at 7:45 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the additional reviews - how can someone like this not have a decent wikipedia entry? Can someone here rectify this situation?
posted by sophrontic at 7:54 AM on December 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

verstegan, thank you for your insightful comment. She was a very good writer indeed, that sounds like a distillation of the rancid sexism in the East Coast writing gang. Now I want to do some re-reading.

posted by theora55 at 8:01 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't read her fiction, but her small book on Merill is one of the better explicaitons o the ongoing strangeness of that life--it took his work seriosuly.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, with regret if I sound as if I'm making her an adjunct to James Merrill, but Merrill was very important to me for a long time and Familiar Spirits has a place in my heart.
posted by a Rrose by any other name at 12:40 PM on December 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, man. I just love her books. The Truth About Lorin Jones is my favorite. I don't think anyone else could pull that off and make it enjoyable, not just the kind of satire you meanly enjoy if you know people like that. It's mostly a bunch of characters who cross over from Lurie's other books gossiping about a dead artist, and the main living character is this angry, self-sabotaging, privileged woman who's writing about her while trying to sort out her own shit. And yet it's enthralling! The lengthy descriptions of Lorin Jones's paintings are the kind of thing you might think you'd flip on past, but they're wonderful. And the actual writing. I would love to be sitting with a bunch of other Lurie fans right now, swapping lines from her books.

Thank you, Alison Lurie.
posted by BibiRose at 12:58 PM on December 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by HandfulOfDust at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


when she was touring at Dutton's brentwood for the last resort I asked why the zimmern family reappeared in her fiction and she said she had tried to write a novel primarily about leonard but it never worked out.
posted by brujita at 5:20 PM on December 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Language of Clothes was a marvelous big.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:18 AM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

A marvelous book, dangit. Missed the edit window.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 AM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you verstegen, a Rrose by any other name, and PinkMoose for bringing up Familiar Spirits; I've been meaning to read it for many years, but frankly forgot that it even existed.

So I read it this afternoon, and it was far better than I'd imagined, but also far darker. Lurie is very unusual in having the ability to plumb depths like that without being swallowed up in them.

I, on the other hand, have yet to resurface.

Though I did notice something odd that may help buoy me up eventually: Merrill's and Jackson's machinery of gods, souls, reincarnation, damnation, and "animal densities" has so much in common with Lois McMaster Bujold's as elaborated in her Chalion books that I'd be amazed to learn she came up with it completely independently.
posted by jamjam at 9:26 PM on December 6, 2020

Took her class when I was a sophomore, and was immediately intimidated by my fellow students ("I'm like, working on the 7th draft of my multi-volume series, and I need help on creating descriptive passages"). Tried to drop it, and she calmly and with exceptional humor and empathy talked me into retaining the class. It's a fond memory in an undergraduate experience with very few fond memories. A great author, but also a great person.
posted by Vcholerae at 6:49 AM on December 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

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