Isabel's Bed

Isabel's Bed

by Elinor Lipman


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When Harriet Mahoney first sees it, Isabel Krug's bed is covered with sheared sheep and littered with celebrity biographies. Unpublished, fortyish, and recently jilted, Harriet has fled Manhattan for Isabel's loudly elegant Cape Cod retreat, where she will ghostwrite The Isabel Krug Story, based on the sexy blond's scandalous tabloid past. Unusually "talented" in the man department ("I give lessons"), Isabel revamps and inspires Harriet as they gear up to tell all, including the tangled history Isabel shares with her odd lodger, Costas. Life according to Isabel is a nonstop soap opera extravaganza, an experience to be swallowed whole — and the attitude is catching....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786204953
Publisher: Macmillan Library Reference
Publication date: 08/01/1995
Pages: 515
Product dimensions: 5.74(w) x 8.77(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Elinor Lipman is the author of the novels The Way Men Act and Then She Found Me, and a collection of short stories Into Love and Out Again.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, she lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and son.


Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 16, 1950

Place of Birth:

Lowell, Massachusetts


A.B., Simmons College, 1972; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Simmons College, 2000

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1

WINTER BEFORE LAST, a tea-leaf reader at a psychic fair looked into my cup and said she saw me living in a house with many beds and a big-mouth blonde. At the time it meant nothing to me. I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with a balding, malcontent boyfriend of twelve years, who said we'd get married if I conceived his child or when he felt like it. Since I was looking for literary prophecies — that I'd write a best-seller or at least find an agent — and because my tea-leaf reader wore, in a room full of gauzy peasantwear, a knock-off Chanel suit, I moved on to another booth.

Six weeks later, Kenny took me out to dinner at an expensive chef-owned restaurant and told me he was ambivalent about us. I said what I'd been saving for such an occasion — that we were commonlaw spouses by now and he'd better get over his ambivalence.

"I met someone," he replied.

There went twelve years: my youth. In three months, he was married.

So at forty-one, feeling like eighty, I was looking for something — a job, a friend, a hiding place where I could live out my days — when I overheard a stranger on the subway confide to her seatmate, "There are no guarantees in this world, but chances are that people who take out ads in the New York Review of Books aren't idiots or crooks." I bought my first issue and read the personals for laughs, circling one or two that didn't ask for "pretty" or "vivacious" before my eyes wandered into "Share." And there it was, my answer, my job, my tea-leaf destiny:

Book in progress? While you're at it, why not share my Cape retreat? Gourmet kitchen, beach rights, wild blueberries. Considering lap pool. Roomy and peaceful: your life will be your own. Write me about your spectacular self. Room and board negotiable in exchange for services. Include writing sample. Box 8152.

"Harriet Mahoney," I heard between the lines, "Your troubles are over. Box 8152 will cure everything that's been wrong with your life." I could see myself, a better me, at this Cape retreat: at my typewriter, sharing thoughts and kitchen
privileges with a kindred soul, baking wild blueberries into muffins.

In the past, I would have signed up for a course on pouring my heart into a cover letter, but I figured even prophecies had expiring deadlines. I had to write the letter of my life, threading my frayed self through the eye of the employment needle into the Yes pile; to find the silver lining in the fact that I'd spent my thirties unofficially engaged to a spoiled child; to put a good face on my B.A. in English from a defunct women's college, my two unpublished novels, and a string of secretarial jobs where I had learned to clear the paper path in all makes of copying machines.

So I wrote that for twelve years I had successfully shared quarters with a challenging roommate, that I was intelligent, considerate, and neat. I sent a laser-printed chapter from my first novel, American Apology, along with its best rejection letter ("competently written, at times even affecting") and a short story that my writing group insisted The New Yorker should have taken.

Although dozens of people applied, people with Ph.D.s and hardcover contracts, it was my letter that Isabel Krug liked best. "I didn't want any big shots," she told me later. "No prima donnas. You sounded normal."

She liked the "secretary" part. She wanted someone to ghostwrite her story, and she figured if it were a simple matter of channeling her voice through someone else's fingertips, why not a blunt set that typed 105 words a minute?

Over the phone she asked without apology how old I was, if I'd been in jail, if I had AIDS or the HIV virus, if I'd be squeamish about male visitors, and if I drove a stick.

It wasn't a tone I could stand forever, but it was offering what I needed. Assuming I had beat out the others on the strength of my prose and my suddenly spectacular self, I accepted ecstatically. Without meeting Isabel Krug. Without asking who else lived in this Cape retreat. Without asking what her story was.

Copyright © 1995 by Elinor Lipman

Customer Reviews

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Isabel's Bed 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elinor Lipman is one of the best practitioners of the art of domestic comedy currently writing. Her books are light, not lite; they're funny and witty, but they also have a sting. They're beautifully written in a simple, clean style, and the characters have a depth of personality that makes them engaging and believable, if not necessarily always likable. Elinor Lipman's books go down easy, but at the same time they offer genuine insight into human nature and the indomitability of the human spirit.As Isabel's Bed opens, heroine and narrator Harriet Mahoney has just been dumped by Kenny, her "balding, malcontent boyfriend of twelve years, who said we'd get married if I conceived his child or when he felt like it." Bad enough that Harriet's been dumped, even worse that they've been sharing an apartment in New York, notoriously one of the toughest housing markets in the world, but--worst of all--he's left her to marry someone. A younger--Harriet is forty-one--someone. So, turning his slap in the face into a knife in her back, it's not that Kenny didn't want to get's that he didn't want to marry Harriet.Ouch.Harriet, a secretary and would-be writer, does what any intellectual New Yorker would do: she turns to the personal ads in the New York Review of Books, for, as she overheard one woman say another on the subway one day, "There are no guarantees in this world, but chances are that people who take out ads in the New York Review of Books aren't idiots or crooks." Lo and behold, she finds something, an invitation for a writer to share a Cape retreat. "Write me about your spectacular self," the ad says.And so Harriet does, is hired, and rents a car to make the drive from Manhattan to Cape Cod. There she meets Isabel Krug, a woman whom Harriet has never heard of but who, apparently, achieved some degree of notoriety as the "other woman" in a tabloid murder extravaganza several years earlier. Isabel, it seems, wants Harriet to write her life story.Isabel Krug is bigger than life. She's bosomy and loud. She embraces and amplifies that which she lacks--she lives in a luxurious ultra-modern house fitted out with a state-of-the-art modern kitchen but is helpless even to open a can of soup, she owns several fabulous cars but doesn't drive--while offering life lessons to all around her (who often, admittedly, roll their eyes while secretly taking her advice). And, as often happens when a seemingly dull nobody is taken under the wing of an Auntie Mame, Harriet blossoms. She comes into her own and, more importantly, truly sees Kenny for what he is and realizes how little she's lost (and how much she's gained). Isabel's Bed is a beautiful gem of a novel, which gives us beautiful writing, a compelling story, and engaging characters. Elinor Lipman is as good and as insightful into the human condition as her more well-known contemporaries, such as Anne Tyler and Anita Shreve. Perhaps some day she'll share their readership.
sallyawolf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book Isabel, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and has decided to write a book about it. Not knowing the first thing about writing she hires a ghost writer. The lives of all of the charterers intertwine in a weird set of events that lead everyone to find themselves a different place in their lives then where they started out. If you are the kind of person who reads the first ten pages of a book to see if they will like it or not then this book is defiantly not for you. The first chapter or two of this book are very boring and poorly written but like in the book itself the author finds their grove and it is well worth the read. I love the interaction between the characters and the personal growth that they all go through. I would recommend this book if you like, Chick Lit, romance or a bit of fun read when you have nothing better to do. I found this book in the trash.
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A delight! My favorite of all her books - and she is one of my favorite authors!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is good,but I have to say it is quite boring. At first you can't put it down, but by the end you cant pick it up. I must praise the beginning. It is very interesting and I couldent put it down. By the end i have lost interest. I still have yet to pick up the half read book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
Now this was a great book -- some really quirky characters and an incredibly original plot really juiced up the urge to keep reading and to turn each page until the very end. I fell for the author's push for me to love certain characters, and dislike others, and I enjoyed the ride. A great book for traveling, beach reads, and your general desire to get away from it all and relax.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so good. The ending was the biggest disappointment since we found out who shot Mr. Burns.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the characters, but felt like the rug was pulled out from under me with the ending. The story line took an abrupt turn and none of the things it had been building to were concluded.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book at a BN and sat down on a Sunday night at about 7:00 pm and read it all the way through until about 3:00 am. It certainly was a page-turner. I was sad to see how the book ended though. Everything kind of climaxed a little late in the book and then sort of just ended with Harriet going in a totally different direction. I did enjoy the characters though, and couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found myself loving Isabel from the beginning. Her rude and unapologetic ways left me feeling very at home. It was just great to pick up and read a cute little novel. It was charming.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was like hanging out with hilarious old friends. I smiled the whole way through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'll admit, it took a second reading for me to enjoy this book. After the first reading, I thought Harriet was sort of pathetic, although I loved the characters of Isabel and Pete. I'm not even sure why I read it again...but I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed it much more the second time! Perhaps it was the passage of time and the changing of goals in my own life that made me more sympathetic towards Harriet. Also, Lipman injects her characters with such great humor and humanity - especially Isabel, who is a delight in her strange way. I recommend giving this book a shot...and if you don't like it, try again in seven years!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Isabel's Bed is one of the funniest, most enjoyable books I've ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction and really strong characters and dialouge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tries to be titillating, but is sooooo borrrring.... I couldn't maintain an interest in any characters except that 'bad' boyfriend who kicked out the main character, and who could blame him? A directionless person at the crossroads of life? Could turn into something good, but instead, I wanted to slap Harriet, and say, 'Live your own life, you wuss!' Had there been an option to give no stars, I would have seized it. However, I must assign at least one star, so I will also concede that there were no spelling errors or typos.