This slim volume is Calvin Trillin’s tribute to his wife Alice, not only his muse and his first and most critical reader but also a figure well known to his readers. First written as a long essay in The New Yorker, the book is a slightly expanded version that chronicles their relationship, their family life, her many and varied interests, her illness—lung cancer—that first appeared in 1976, and her death in 2001 waiting in the heart failure unit of a hospital, her heart having been damaged by the radiation treatment 25 years before.


Trillin has written a warm, uncomplicated love story that folds Alice’s illness into her life as mother, writer, teacher, friend, and wife. The book begins with her death, including condolence letters that often began with “Even though I never really knew Alice,” a claim to which Trillin believes Alice would have retorted, “They’re right about that,” emblematic of the humor and spirit lacing this portrait of her life. There are eight short chapters in the book, each focusing on a particular aspect of her life—how they met, her legendary attractiveness and sense of style, her "role" in their marriage (she was the straight person), parenting, her illness and how she faced it.

The actual details of her dying take up only the last five pages, but Trillin makes many references to the cancer that was always "there," what Alice referred to as a sleeping dragon. In her widely-read and still relevant account of her illness, “Of Dragons and Garden Peas: A Cancer Patient Talks to Doctors,” published in 1981 in the New England Journal of Medicine (see annotation), she wrote that "we all know that the dragons are never quite dead and might at any time be aroused, ready for another fight." This essay, along with one she wrote eight months before her death in The New Yorker ("Betting Your Life"), would make the reading of About Alice much richer, giving readers a far greater appreciation of Alice’s deeply perceptive intelligence and her own writing skills, not to mention considerably more insight into the impact of illness on individuals and their families.



First published in a shorter version in The New Yorker (March 27, 2006)


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count