Crazy Salad is a collection of twenty-five articles Nora Ephron wrote for her Esquire magazine column in the early 1970s, when she was actively involved in the second-wave feminist movement. A few of the articles are light, but most are not so much. She covers an expansive array of topics such as body image, health, porn stars, politics, business, marriage, and other social mechanisms. Ephron’s style, as usual, is honest and witty, and sometimes ruthless, but not quite as artistically expressive as her later works (for example, I Remember Nothing). She might have been more moderate in her approach since she was writing as an employee rather than an independent author. But this was relatively early in her career. Maybe her lyrical genius was still under construction.
By now, the content of Crazy Salad is historical original-source documentation. Even at the risk of diminishing her treasured cause, Ephron candidly exposes some basic weaknesses within the women’s movement, particularly how cattiness among the leaders resulted in lack of clarity in strategy and direction. But, looking back, her articles also prove American women’s progress as generally valued members of society. Some of the feminist events Ephron reports on would currently be considered radical expressions: onstage, do-it-yourself abortion demonstrations, public vaginal exploratory sessions with a speculum, and such things. If these kinds of events still occur, I’m unaware of them. Hopefully, American women are no longer compelled to such drama in order to make their point.
Despite its silly title, Crazy Salad is not one of Ephron’s comic collections. The most amusing article is a bittersweet monologue on breast size obsession. Another piece on feminine deodorant spray has a few chuckles, but it also criticizes the manufactured demand for such unnecessary and potentially harmful products. While product testing is probably better these days, marketing tactics don’t seem to have changed much. Women are still prime targets for oft-futile promises to correct our perceived imperfections, as evidenced by the ubiquity of beauty potions, cosmetic surgeries, and fad diets.
|President Nixon and his daughter Julie (guestofaguest.com)|
Of course, Ephron addresses the political maneuverings of the feminist movement, but that’s not the only place Washington shenanigans make an appearance. Ephron talks about the wives of politicians, whose job was to practice longsuffering and make their husbands look good. She writes about President Nixon’s daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, whose Mickey-Mousish idealism smacked of stupidity, and Nixon’s personal secretary, Rosemary Woods, who was implicated in the alleged deletion of a swath of tape-recorded evidence in the Watergate scandal. Ephron describes how Woods and other political secretaries devoted themselves to their statesmen employers, sacrificing their own opportunities for families or personal realization, and how these women received precious little loyalty in return.
Per my standard preferences, I found the political pieces kind of snoozy, but I got through them without too much pain thanks to Nora’s deft pen, and I considered myself better educated in American feminist history. I was expecting something lighter and was therefore disappointed only in that respect. Being what it is, I recommend Crazy Salad for a great first-person look at women’s issues, succinctly written despite the intrinsic complexities, with Ephron’s famous blend of brutal honesty and easy grace.
|Nora Ephron at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival|
Note: My edition of Crazy Salad is part of a bound two-book set also including Scribble Scrabble: Notes on Media, a title that sounds forebodingly political to me. Since I was ready for something big on adventure and light on politics, I decided to save the reading and review of Scribble Scrabble for later.