Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages, $25
The wry style of Elinor Lipman gives even the darker elements of her latest novel, Good Riddance, the much-needed wit that speeds it along on several amusing tracks. Its main character, Daphne Maritch, has thrown out a weirdly annotated yearbook that belonged to her late mother, June, who taught at the school and was married to the principal. But busybody neighbor Geneva grabs the yearbook, snuffing out secrets to work on a documentary about that 1968 class.
And indeed, there is a secret lurking in June’s past that comes to light. As the story unfolds, Lipman dances along with Daphne: studying chocolate, having a fling with charming actor Jeremy and growling against the invasive Geneva, eventually using sly methods to get her to give up her tacky investigations. Lipman makes Geneva fun to hate.
Daphne’s relationship with each character has its own color—she varies as affectionate, loyal, ferocious and ironic. Artfully flirtatious, Jeremy evolves as the lover of Daphne, who is recently divorced from Holden. Given that her ex only needed a wife to gain his inheritance, she’s now hesitant and insecure about relationships. Despite that, she treats her widowed father, Thomas, with grace as revelations are made. Massachusetts native Lipman never lets the story become morally heavy or sad, and the dialogue keeps it in comedy territory.
From page 141: “Between my hat, bought just that morning, an unseasonable black organza with a floppy Kentucky Derby brim, and the oversize tortoiseshell sunglasses, I hoped to achieve a look between incognito and conspicuous-attractive. I took a seat midchurch on the aisle to facilitate a fast escape. I could see Holden in the front row along with, presumably, relatives. Bibi’s gleaming coffin was decorated with nonfloral cascading greenery that someone whispered was copied from Jackie Onassis’s casket embellishments.” ◆