“At the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original, and Austen-like stylist belongs.” — Fay Weldon, Washington Post
My Latest Grievance introduces us to Frederica Hatch. Sixteen years old and accustomed to being the center of attention, Frederica has been raised in a dorm on the campus of Dewing, a women’s college just outside Boston. It’s 1978, and her parents are intensely PC (before the term was coined) — two bleeding hearts that beat as one. Aviva Ginsburg Hatch is a union grievance commitee chairperson and perennial professor of the year, and, to Frederica’s frustration, she’s the only mother around who doesn’t own a jewelry box and makeup. Frederica’s father, David Hatch, shares his wife’s political passions and agrees with her about almost everything. Chafing under the care of the “most annoyingly evenhanded parental team in the history of civilization,” Frederica is starting to feel that her life is stiflingly snug.
But then Frederica’s path crosses that of the glamorous new dorm mother at Dewing, Laura Lee French, the antithesis of the Hatches. And with Laura Lee comes the best gossip in the history of the college — she is David Hatch’s ex-wife. When Frederica learns the surprising news, she can’t stop imagining the maternal road not taken, wondering if she was born into the wrong side of the divorce. Fearing scandal, the three Hatches and Laura Lee are forced to keep their history a secret, and havoc and hilarity ensue. The New York Times Book Review compared Lipman to “an inspired alchemist,” and the magic continues with My Latest Grievance.
“It is very rare you get to read a book that holds you enchanted on every page, but Lipman’s latest casts just that spell.” — Nigella Lawson
“Turn Lipman loose on conflicting moralities and shifting allegiances, and you always will be entertained.” — Miami Herald
“So entertaining you’re sorry to see it end.” — Seattle Times
Elinor Lipman is the author of seven previous novels, including The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, The Inn at Lake Devine, The Ladies’ Man, Isabel’s Bed, and Then She Found Me. Four of her novels have been optioned for film and are in various stages of development. She divides her time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York City. In 2001 she won the New England Booksellers Award for fiction. She has taught at Simmons, Hampshire, and Smith colleges, which bear no resemblance to Dewing.
1. The book is narrated by the adult Frederica Hatch as she looks back at a tumultuous teenage year. Does the author make the combined sensibility — age sixteen viewed through the eyes of the narrator’s present self — work?
2. Why do you think the author made Dewing a lackluster institution rather than a top-notch college?
3. Frederica asks on page 1, “Were they types, my parents-to-be? From a distance and for a long time, it appeared to be so.” Does this serve as a warning? A prediction? A wink from the author? An apology?
4. Laura Lee French’s ex-husband is a distant cousin. Would the story have unfolded in the same way if she had not been a relative?
5. Marietta Woodbury and her mother are rude to Laura Lee upon first speaking to her on campus. Did this meeting resonate with you and signal trouble ahead?
6. The affair between Laura Lee and President Woodbury is anything but discreet. Did their public carrying on amuse or offend you?
7. The professors Hatch are passionately committed to righting wrongs and to each other. In what ways do they let their daughter down?
8. What turning point triggers Frederica’s more sympathetic and respectful view of her parents?
9. One could say that the Blizzard of ’78 is a character in My Latest Grievance. Did the author succeed in conveying the power of that historic storm and effectively put you there?
10. Did you find any character less than fully developed? What else did you want to know about him or her?
11. Laura Lee French, narcissist extraordinaire: is it possible to feel sympathy for this character?
12. Chapter 33, “Emeriti,” the epilogue, brings the reader to the present. How well does the jump forward in time wrap up the story?
My Latest Grievance began in my mind with one question, one “what-if . . . ?” and that was, “What if a child didn’t find out until she was a teenager that her father had been married before?” The small details arrived fully formed, as givens: that the parents would be college professors and would be activists to a degree that I could have fun with; that Frederica would be an only child, and that the first wife would be alive and kicking. What I didn’t know at first was that the Hatch family would live on campus as house parents and that Frederica would be raised in a dormitory. That (rather major) part came after I had written thirty-five pages, had given the Hatches a house off-campus, across the street from best friend Patsy Leonard. But as I was writing about Laura Lee’s arrival at Dewing, I was having trouble with a first-person narrator, Frederica, who wasn’t on the scene to report on Laura Lee’s shenanigans. It now seems so obvious that the up-close-and-personal was essential, but it took a few chapters before I realized that and wrote the words that would open the book, “I was raised in a brick dormitory at Dewing College . . .”
All the complications and emotional havoc (better not say what at this juncture) unfolded as the characters developed, sometimes surprising me and challenging my nerve as they took a turn for the outrageous. As often happens as I write, some characters — Aviva in particular — weren’t conceived as sympathetic characters, but they completely won me over. One thing I was sure of was that the final chapter (no spoiler alert needed) would be an epilogue, that readers needed to know how life turned out for the Hatches, for Dewing College, and for Laura Lee.