I don't know how some writers pull it off. When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win by longtime comedy writer Carol Leifer, which was published by Villard, seems to me in form and even sometimes in subject matter — though not, of course, on a sentence-by-sentence basis — to resemble Nora Ephron's marvelously entertaining and highly successful collection of pieces called I Feel Bad About My Neck. The interesting thing is that Ephron's subtitle for the book — And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman — didn't comfortably fit her book, but works well for Leifer's.
Like Ephron's collection, Leifer's book — her first — is made up of small pieces, mostly about the travails of being an aging woman (Leifer's subtitle, not too surprisingly, is Reflections on Looking in the Mirror). Both women consider what might be called life's considerable wrinkles, and especially, what occurs when gravity begins to have its way with you. And both books are filled with splendid jokes.
I'm not in any way suggesting that, because the two works have some undeniable overlap, Leifer has plagiarized. She has her own style, and the manner in which she constructs her jokes is all her own. What I envision is that either in a discussion with a friend or more likely an editor, someone pointed to the Ephron book as something Leifer could do in a snap. And so she has.
Now, all that having been said, When You Lie is a truly entertaining experience, especially in the first half, where many of the best jokes reside, along with Leifer's hilarious depiction of her sudden commitment to late-life lesbianism. She took the plunge, so to speak, after 40 years of what seemed to be — to her and everyone else around her — dedicated heterosexuality. Considering the delicate nature of the topic, perhaps we should get that out of the way right at the start.
The revelation comes in a piece called "Surprise!" The piece begins: " 'If I don't sleep with a woman soon, I think I'll kill myself.'
'That's what I remember saying to my buddy Ed on the golf course right before this all happened. (And yes, I'm well aware of the irony that this plea was uttered on a golf course.)
"I was eager. I was pumped. 'I'm ready for my lesbian fling, Mr. DeMille.' "
At the time, Leifer was turning 40, and thought this really was about a potential fling, something causal at best, something you had to do before you died. But then, what she discovered was that the woman she'd taken a hankering to was, in fact, the love of her life. They've been together ever since — 10 years now — and many of the pieces discuss the high points of their time together, along with their young son and a slew of pets.
In this small space, I can only suggest some of the fine comic moments that Leifer spins. Here are a sampling of some of her beautifully molded wisecracks taken from "40 Things I Know at 50 (Because 50 is the New 40):
· The people who frequent nude beaches are never the people you want to see naked.
· When a waiter asks you to taste the wine and you're clueless, sip and then say, 'Yeah, that should get me hammered.'
· A fly in an airplane is very lost.
· Never buy Sweet'N Low, Equal or Splenda at the supermarket. That's what restaurants are for.
· Why do men have nipples? What's the point? They're like plastic fruit.
· Professional bodybuilders look like walking challahs.
The only problem with When You Lie is that the second half gets a little repetitious in manner. Leifer's attack never, ever seems to vary and often you can anticipate how the whole thing's going to wrap up. That doesn't mean, of course, that she doesn't manage to get in several wonderful zingers along the way.
Leifer, unfortunately, is not yet as profoundly touching as Ephron can at time be, but she does appear to be getting there. She has to let up on the stand-up mannerisms a little; she's been a working comic for years, and has written for "Saturday Night Live" and "The Larry Sanders Show." To make the appropriate literary transition, she'd have to begin to think more like a prose writer and structure her pieces less like riffs. Then it may all come to her. And it seems more than remotely possible since so much else is already in her grasp.