My Latest Grievance

My Latest Grievance

by Elinor Lipman

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Overview

My Latest Grievance stars the beguiling teenager Frederica Hatch, the "Eloise of Dewing College." Born and raised in the dormitory of this small women's college and 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. That all changes with the arrival on campus of a new dorm mother, the glamorous Laura Lee French, the frenetic center of her own universe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618644650
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/10/2006
Edition description: None
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

ELINOR LIPMAN is the author of eight previous novels, including The Inn at Lake Devine, and My Latest Grievance, winner of the Paterson Fiction Prize. In 2001 she won the New England Book Award for Fiction. The film Then She Found Me, directed by and starring Helen Hunt, is based on her first novel.

Hometown:

Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 16, 1950

Place of Birth:

Lowell, Massachusetts

Education:

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

Read an Excerpt

The Perfect Child

I was raised in a brick dormitory at Dewing College, formerly the Mary-Ruth Dewing Academy, a finishing school best known for turning out attractive secretaries who married up.
In the late 1950s, Dewing began granting baccalaureate degrees to the second-rate students it continued to attract despite its expansion into intellectual terrain beyond typing and shorthand. The social arts metamorphosed into sociology and psychology, nicely fitting the respective fields of job seekers Aviva Ginsburg Hatch, Ph.D., my mother, and David Hatch, Ph.D., my father. Twin appointments had been unavailable at the hundred more prestigious institutions they aspired and applied to. They arrived in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1960, not thrilled with the Dewing wages or benefits, but ever hopeful and prone to negotiation—two bleeding hearts that beat as one, conjoined since their first date in 1955 upon viewing a Movietone newsreel of Rosa Parks’s arrest.
Were they types, my parents-to-be? From a distance, and even to me for a long time, it appeared to be so. Over coffee in grad school they’d found that each had watched every black-and-white televised moment of the Army-McCarthy hearings, had both written passionately on The Grapes of Wrath in high school; both held Samuel Gompers and Pete Seeger in high esteem; both owned albums by the Weavers. Their wedding invitations, stamped with a union bug, asked that guests make donations in lieu of gifts to the presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson.
It was my father who proposed that their stable marriage and professional sensitivities would lend themselves to the rentfree benefit known as houseparenting. The dean of residential life said she was sorry, but a married couple was out of the question: Parents would not like a man living among their nubile daughters.
“What about a man with a baby?” my father replied coyly. It was a premature announcement. My mother’s period must have been no more than a week late at the time of that spring interview, but they both felt ethically bound to share the details of her menstrual calendar. He posited further: Weren’t two responsible, vibrant parents with relevant Ph.D.s better than their no doubt competent but often elderly predecessors, who—with all due respect—weren’t such a great help with homework and tended to die on the job? David and Aviva inaugurated their long line of labor-management imbroglios by defending my right to live and wail within the 3.5 rooms of their would-be apartment. If given the chance, they’d handle everything; they’d address potential doubts and fears head-on in a letter they’d send to parents and guardians of incoming Mary-Ruths, as we called the students, introducing themselves, offering their phone number, their curricula vitae, their open door, and their projected vision of nuclear familyhood.
The nervous dean gave the professors Hatch a one-year trial; after all, an infant in a dorm might disrupt residential life in ways no one could even project, prepartum. And consider the mumps, measles, and chicken pox a child would spread to the still susceptible and nonimmunized.
On the first day of freshman orientation, three months’ pregnant, my mother greeted parents wearing maternity clothes over her fl at abdomen, an unspoken announcement that most greeted with pats and coos of delight. Mothers testified to their daughters’ babysitting talents. My father demurred nobly. “We’d never want to take any one of our girls away from their studies,” he said.
When I was born in February 1961, it was to instant campus celebrity. It didn’t matter that I was bald and scaly, quite homely if the earliest Polaroids tell the story. Photo album number one opens not with baby Frederica in the delivery room or in the arms of a relative, but with me—age ten days—in a group photo of the entire 1960–61 population of Griggs Hall. A competent girl with a dark flip and a wide headband, most likely a senior, is holding me up to the camera. My eyes are closed and I seem to be in the windup for a howl. My mother stands in the back row, a little apart from the girls, but smiling so fondly at the camera that I know my father was behind it.
David Hatch would be a role model before the phrase was on the tip of every talk show hostess’s tongue. He paraded me in the big English perambulator, a joint gift from the psych. and soc. departments, along the ribbons of sidewalk that crisscrossed the smallish residential campus, or carried me against his chest in a homemade sling, which my mother modeled on cloths observed during her fieldwork in a primitive agrarian society. In public, at the dining hall, he spooned me baby food from jars, switching off withh my mother—she nursed, he fed—causing quite the stir those many decades ago. He was a man ahead of his time, and the adolescents—hhhhhis grad school concentration—noticed. My mother predicted that Dewing grads, especially Griggs alums, would blame us when their future husbands didn’t stack up to Professor-Housefather Hatch, the most equal of partners.

We lived our fishbowl lives in three and a half wallpapered rooms furnished with overstuffed chairs and antique Persian rugs, the legacy of a predecessor who had died intestate. We had a beige half kitchen with a two-burner stove, a pink-tiled bathroom, a fake fireplace, and a baby grand piano, which the college tuned annually at its own expense, presumably in the name of sing- alongs and caroling. The nursery was a converted utility closet with a crib, later a cot. When I was seven, my parents petitioned the college to enlarge our quarters by incorporating a portion of Griggs Hall’s living room into our apartment. Noting my birth date, they asked the college to consider fashioning Miss Frederica Hatch, the unofficial mascot of Griggs Hall, a real bedroom; it was, after all, her sabbatical year.
The board of trustees said yes to the renovation. Griggs Hall had become the most popular dorm on campus, despite its architectural blandness and its broken dryers. The Hatch family had worked out beautifully; more married couples had become dorm parents. Some had babies, surely for their own reasons, but also after I was a proven draw. When I went to college in the late 1970s, to a bucolic campus where dogs attended classes with their professor- masters, I noted that these chocolate labs and golden retrievers were the objects of great student affection, supplying something that was missing for the homesick and the lovesick. The dogs reminded me of me.
I was a reasonable and polite child, if not one thoroughly conscious of her own model-childness. Because I needed to be the center of attention—the only state I’d ever known—I developed modest tricks that put me in the spotlight without having to sing or tap-dance or raise my voice: I ate beets, Brussels sprouts, and calf ’s liver. I drank white milk, spurning the chocolate that was offered. I carried a book at all times, usually something recognized by these C-plus students as hard, literary, advanced for my years. I drew quietly with colored pencils during dorm meetings. I mastered the poker face when it came to tasting oddball salad-bar combinations (cottage cheese and ketchup, peanut butter on romaine) favored by adolescent girls so that I’d appear worldly and adventurous.
Over the years, certain objects and rituals became synonymous with me: the wicker basket with its gingham lining in which the infant me attended classes; a ragged blanket that my psychologically astute parents let me drag everywhere until it dissolved; the lone swing that my father hung from the sturdiest red maple on campus; first a pink tricycle, then a pink two- wheeler, its handlebars sprouting streamers, which I garaged on the porch of Griggs Hall, no lock needed.
I didn’t exactly raise myself, especially with five floors of honorary sisters living above me at all times. But there was the omnipresent ID card around my neck granting me entrance to all buildings and all meals, with or without a parent. Aviva and David were busy with their classes, their advisees, and increasingly their causes. Assassinations at home and wars abroad necessitated their boarding buses for marches in capital cities, but babysitters were plentiful. I was safe at Dewing, always, and good with strangers. Tall, spiked wrought-iron fencing surrounded our sixteen acres, a relic from the days of curfews and virginity.
Between seventh and eighth grade, I grew tall; incoming freshmen took me for a baby-faced classmate, which was to me a distressing development. I had no intention of blending in. I wanted to be who I’d become, the Eloise of Dewing College, an institution that others, transients, occupied only fleetingly.
Looking back today from adulthood, it’s too easy to idealize my childhood in an exurban Brigadoon, Boston skyline in the distance and, for the most part, kind girls in every chair. We hoped Dewing could get better, its standards higher, its students brighter, its admission competitive, but it wasn’t to be. Smart candidates would soon attend schools that accepted men and boasted hockey rinks. Housemothers came and went throughout my Dewing years. There was less intra-houseparent socializing than one would expect, given the geography of our lives. The older ladies, some carryovers from the secretarial training days, wore—or so it seemed to me—perpetual scowls. They couldn’t hide their disapproval of modern Mary- Ruths in blue jeans, of their unstockinged legs, their gentlemen callers, their birth control prescriptions. Where were the debutantes of old? The girls who wore fraternity pins on their pastel sweaters and foundation garments beneath them?
My outside friends saw my home as the whole of Griggs Hall and beyond, its acres of campus lawn and flowering trees, vending machines on every floor, cool and pretty girls whose perfumed copies of Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Vogue beckoned from open mailboxes for hours before they were retrieved. They envied my long reign as the charter mascot. Often I came to school with my hair braided and adorned in intricate ways, courtesy of a team of boarders who preferred hairdressing to homework.
Eventually everyone, even my unconventional and high-profile mother (union grievance chairperson, agitator, perennial professor of the year, and public breast-feeder), faded to gray in the archives of Dewing houseparenting. When I was sixteen, the college hired the enthralling and once glamorous Laura Lee French, most recently of Manhattan, maybe forty, maybe more, to pilot Ada Tibbets Hall, the artistic and wayward girls’ dorm next to Griggs. The timing was excellent: I was growing invisible by then, a teenager rather than a pet, despite the darling Halloween photos of me in every yearbook printed since my birth. Just as I was craving more attention, along came Laura Lee, dorm mother without a day job, single, childless, and ultimately famous within our gates.
We overlapped for two years. It was awkward even for my parents, unembarrassable progressives though they were. Fearing scandal and campus glee, we four kept our secret: that Laura Lee French, in the distant past, had been married to my father.

Copyright © 2006 by Elinor Lipman. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Completely irresistible. Expect high demand for this novel and renewed interest in Lipman's previous seven. Highly recommended.
Library Journal Starred

A novel of warmth, wisdom, love, and redemption that is funny and fun to read.
Booklist, ALA

Up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs.
The Washington Post

Lovable, psychologically intricate... Bittersweet farce.
The New York Times Book Review

May be Lipman's best work so far... Every page offers laugh-out-loud dialogue...So entertaining you're sorry to see it end.
The Seattle Times

This is not-to-be-missed reading.
Bookpage

Customer Reviews

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My Latest Grievance 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
oldblack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just like the Lipman story I read before this one, "light reading" is probably a good overall categorization. You won't lie awake at night reflecting on your life and the meaning of existence after reading this book, but it does make a relaxing break between "serious" novels. I liked the characterization of the parents - people who take everything seriously and treat their teenage daughter as though she was an intelligent adult peer. People (like me) who were younger adults in the 1970s will laugh at themselves as they recall their own experience of protests, encounter groups, and similar "dated" beliefs and practices. The ending of the book was rather a disappointment to me, because it is *so* contrary to my own experience of the way the world works
swl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's been a while since I read a book that so thoroughly engaged me. EL does wry, gentle wit like no one else. This particular book, more so than the three others of hers that I have read, manages to sweep a collection of dotty characters into a storyline that compels the reader forward - but as always it's the narrating voice that really carries it.One off-topic note: my book club, soccer moms all, found the parents unsympathetic. I thought this was interesting. I doubt EL intended them that way. I sometimes forget how steadfastly we suburban housewives devote ourselves to our children...to the extent that career passion is viewed as potentially selfish. I'm not saying we're right and I'm not saying we're wrong - it's just an interesting (and kind of rare) instance of a disconnect between author intent and reader reception.
ennie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delightful tale of academia from the viewpoint of the teenage daughter of 2 professors at a fictional Boston women's college. The father's first wife arrives on campus as a housemother, and complications ensue. Less dumb than it sounds. I don't know why the events were set in 1978, other than to be able to do "where are they now" at the end.
urania1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A humorous light read. Four stars for books of this class
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by this prolific author, and it has has turned out to be a resounding success. I'm often not amused by supposedly humorous writing, but [My Latest Grievance] is utterly hilarious. Much of the charm of this novel also goes to the BBC Audiobook narrator Mia Barron who does each character's voice perfectly in harmony with their individual personalities. The funniest character of the book is clueless Laura Lee French who comes to Dewing College for a job as a housemother but seems to intrude in the lives of others in a most adverse way. Her ex-husband David Hatch, David's current wife Aviva, and their sixteen-year-old daughter Fredericka play interference in an attempt to lessen the ruckus caused by Miss French. The author's very tight and intelligent writing makes this book a superb and delightful read.
jendoyle2000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As someone who spent her first five years in faculty housing, and then grew up the rest of the way less than two miles away from the campus where her parents worked, I found that this book felt very familiar. (And the fact that I now work at the college where the author went to school adds an interesting layer.) I've enjoyed Elinor Lipman's past books and this is no exception. Although it wasn't a fast-paced read -- more, well, pokey, I have to say -- I liked the world she created and the characters who in habited it. The protagonist's parents, lefty academic types, were in danger of being too stereotypical and yet her love and obvious *like* for them puts them onto a whole other level. Not my typical light and fluffy chick lit read, but a solid, pleasant book that I would recommend.
jrepman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What's it like to be raised by two professor parents who live on an all girls college campus? Lots of fun!
23eris on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book rather meandered along with practically no purpose until finally it ended. The narrator was more than a little irritating. This is another book that I would not have finished reading, but as a captive audio audience, I did manage to make it through, although just barely at points.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having enjoyed three of Lipman's books, I was not surprised that My Latest Grievance was so Fun! Fredricka was honest and truthful to a fault, but a breath of fresh air in the college where her parents lived and taught.
IngridArvad More than 1 year ago
Highly reccommended by Roman Polanski and other like minded gent sonn to be arrested for the sexual abuse of a 12 to 13-year-old girls or other charges of unlawful sex with a minor. Hey, if you can't get out of the house because of that whole 'registered sex offender' thing, at least you can have some 'alone time' with these book written for teens, tweens, and confused 34 year music teachers.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you cross the satirical characters of P.J. Wodehouse and the sparkling wit of Jane Austen's novels, you'll have something approaching the delight that is Elinor Lipman's latest novel, i My Latest Grievances /i . Narrator Frederica Hatch, 16, is the daughter of maddeningly politically-correct professor parents who live on campus. Raised on college meals and a philosophy of fighting for the 'depressed and dishevelled', she wishes for cooler, and more conventional parents whos dress stylishly and travel by car instead of bicycle. One day, she finds out that her kindly but dowdy father had a glamorous first wife - shock! - and the woman had landed a job at the college. The novel then skips along at a breezy, lighter-than-air pace. Helped by witty and snappy dialogue, each turn of the page brings new and hilarious revelations. First wife Laura Lee, a self-absorbed drama queen, starts a string of messy scandals, with the poor Hatches having to clean up after her. Frederica's smart-alecky, mordant voice is a triumph. Her parody of her parents' educated and socially conscious speech patterns - hence the title - is sharp and often very, very funny. For example, when Frederica suggests a visit to Grandma, her parents embrace her 'in a group hug as a reward for my outreach'. But underneath the effortless polish, this is an optimistic and wise tale about a daughter coming to love her embarrassing parents. Pity it is so short.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this one. It's Elinor at her best. I started reading it this morning and couldn't stop until I'd finished it. She has such a great ear for dialogue. Loved the way she can crawl inside the vernacular of a 16 year old girl!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finished the book, but more out of curiousity to see how it ended than out of enjoyment. I didn't find any of the characters likable, and Fredericka was close to being insufferable. I warmed up to her when she showed compassion towards Grace, and I was glad that it wasn't out of an ulterior motive. However, the whole story was depressing, and the ending was rushed and unsatisfying. I expected more from Ms. Lipman, whose other books I've thoroughly enjoyed. I hope the next one is a little lighter.