Book Review: Good Riddance

GOOD RIDDANCE by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019): A Review by Tom Lyford

In my third year as a high school teacher, the seniors dedicated their yearbook to me. I was touched by their gesture. I was humbled, not to mention quite flabbergasted and, of course, not just a little flattered. That happened in 1972. And there it sits today, squeezed in so tightly down there on a bottom bookcase shelf among all the other annuals collected over the years since then.

A similar yearbook, coincidentally, serves as the centerpiece of Elinor Lipman’s novel, GOOD RIDDANCE. It’s the 1968 Pickering High School annual (Pickering, NH), The Monadnockian, woefully named for nearby Monadnock Mountain. It was dedicated back then to a Miss June Winter, a first year English teacher, yearbook advisor, and soon-to-be Mrs. Tom Maritch, wife of the high school principal. Now, however, near the present, Mrs. June Winter Maritch, having retired with her husband some years earlier, has just passed away leaving behind two daughters, Daphne and June, along with the widowed Tom.

The first thing that makes her annual unique, and an apt springboard for the plot, is the handwritten codicil attached to her will: “My daughter Daphne will take possession of the Pickering High School yearbook.” And of course the second thing is that June who, for some reason, obsessively attended every single PHS Class of 68 reunion since then, always brought along the prized yearbook so she could add even more personally inked notes within its pages, chronicling the newest details of what had been transpiring in her ex-students’ lives.

‘But there would be more—her own embellishments, her judgments and opinions, written next to those photos in her small legible hand, a different color (red, green, blue) for several milestone reunions, starting with the fifth and continuing to her last, their forty-fifth. Her margin notes were coded but easily deciphered: “M” for married. “S” for single. “D” for dead. “DIV” for divorced. “DWI” said a few, “AIDS” suggested one notation. “Same dress she wore at 15th.” “Very plump” was one of her milder put-downs. “Braces.” “Pregnant.” Occasionally, “Still pretty.” “Looks older than I do” was one of her favorite notes.’

Daughter Daphne is our protagonist. We find her living in a tiny New York apartment, licking her wounds after a demoralizing divorce and trying to lock onto a plan for her future. Prompted by a magazine article about decluttering, she walks the newly acquired Monadnockian down the hall and tosses it into the recycle bin. Big mistake, it is found by The Tenant From Hell down the hall who fancies herself a “future documentarian.” With “Finders Keepers,” the lady announces her plan to make a movie out of this teacher’s life and those of her one-time students. “It has my name written all over it,” she says. Fearing lawsuits and a lot of embarrassments, Daphne proceeds to wage war to get the book back.

This is pure fun, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s a romantic comedy. (OK, I admit it. One of my secret guilty pleasures is RomCom movies and now, after reading my very first ever RomCom novel, I hate to think about what awaits me in my literary Future. This WOULD be a good candidate for a film.) It’s got about as many plot twists in it as a Shakespearean comedy such as AS YOU LIKE IT. The romantic interest for Daphne is her across-the-hall neighbor, Jeremy. Yes, he’s younger than her, but not that young. But yes, he does wear braces, but that’s only because he’s a bit actor playing Timmy on RIVERDALE, the Archie and Jughead television show (so they’re just a realistic prop).

And when (against her better judgement, but to protect her own interests) she’s talked into accompanying the would-be movie-maker the 50th class reunion’s of Pickering High’s Class of 68, she meets the members of the class who voted to award June their yearbook dedication. And then she begins to find out oh so much about her parents…

You can find this one in TFL’s New Book Section.