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What Nora Knew

A novel Nora Ephron fans will love

Created date

April 22nd, 2014
What Nora Knew book cover
What Nora Knew book cover

The world lost one of the great romantic storytellers when Nora Ephron passed away in 2012. Ephron’s films Heartburn, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail are perennial favorites. Her plucky leading ladies and her fickle leading men defined romantic comedy in the 1980s and 1990s.

For all those who miss the Nora Ephron style of romance, comic Linda Yellin’s new novel What Nora Knew (Gallery Books) will be a welcome treat. A lighthearted romantic comedy, the story focuses on Molly Hallberg, a 39-year-old divorced writer striving to find love and success in New York City. Mimicking Ephron’s protagonists, Molly is as plucky as they come. A staff writer for an online magazine, Molly takes on assignments that would make others run in terror. She jumps out of airplanes, she dances with the Rockettes, she poses nude for an art studio, and she learns to play ice hockey. She is fearless about putting herself out there for the sake of a good story.

Life-changing assignment

However, it’s the assignment that doesn’t risk life, limb, or ego that leaves Molly flummoxed. Her editor wants her to write about New York City romance “in the style of Nora Ephron.” Romance is not something Molly knows much about. She met her boyfriend Russell, a chiropractor, when she cashed in a Groupon at his thriving practice. Russell is many things—comfortable, dependable, sensible—but romantic he’s not. 

It isn’t long before Molly meets Cameron Duncan, a suave and playfully arrogant literary star. In true Ephron fashion, they don’t exactly hit it off at first. Molly and Cameron play a bit of cat and mouse throughout the course of the story, and while it’s fairly obvious how this romance will play out, Yellin makes it fun to tag along for the ride. 

Beyond the rollicking plot and quirky characters, What Nora Knew is loaded with references to classic scenes from beloved Ephron movies. “The description of our hero is a description of Tom Hanks, and Molly, the heroine, is blond like Meg Ryan,” says Yellin. “The scene with the two of them sitting back to back in a café takes place in the same setting as the scene between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. Molly sees a boy with a teddy bear at the Empire State Building; that’s a shout-out to Jonah and his teddy bear in Sleepless in Seattle.” There are many more subtle references to Ephron films that true fans will recognize and enjoy.

For the few who don’t automatically think of When Harry Met Sally whenever someone orders a salad with dressing “on the side” at a restaurant, What Nora Knew is a fun read...but for those who do, it’s an odyssey.