‘Eat, Drink, & Remarry” is People magazine meets “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” between the covers of a book: an addictive, empty-calorie binge featuring mid-century modern celebrity gossip, upper-crust extravagance, and marital experimentation. Like the good driver who tries and fails to keep from rubbernecking at a freeway wreck, the discriminating reader of Margo Howard’s third memoir will remind herself that she’ll never get these hours back and vow to make each page turn her last. Good luck with that.
Howard is a former writer for the Chicago Tribune, the New Republic, Good Housekeeping, and TV Guide, and ex-advice columnist for Slate, Yahoo News, and the Globe. She is also author of two previous book-sploitations of her greatest asset: her pedigree. The only child of Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, and Budget Rent a Car cofounder Julius Lederer, Howard grew up with such a mouthful of silver spoons, it’s a wonder she learned to talk. But talk she does. (It’s also worth noting that her mother’s twin sister, Pauline, wrote the “Dear Abby’’ advice column, but Margo and her aunt have “never gotten along.’’)
In the first few pages, Howard disposes of her seemingly perfect high-society childhood. “My parents provided a shining example of a supportive and loving marriage,” she writes, although in fact, her parents later divorced. “Further good fortune: My mother became Ann Landers when I was 15, so until then I had her all to myself, as it were, and in no way suffered the short shrift or long shadow that can befall a celebrity’s child.”
Howard’s memoir begins in earnest in summer 1960 when she was 20. She describes her fleeting youthful foray into civic duty as a volunteer in Hubert Humphrey’s Democratic presidential nomination campaign, winkingly confessing her less than lofty motive. “Having known Hubert from the time I was a kid in Wisconsin (because Mother was chairman of the Eau Claire County Democratic Party), I wanted to pitch in and be part of the campaign. And did I mention the new dating pool?”
As her title promises, Howard spends most of these pages falling in and out of love, slipping into and out of wedding gowns, and realizing with varying degrees of alacrity (but with an invariable wash of self-forgiveness) that once again, she has not chosen well. Since the book flap tells us how the story ends — the author “lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Mr. Right #4” — the only narrative tension is provided by the question “Will she ever learn?”
Spoiler alert: No, she won’t. Demonstrating remarkably little emotion, Howard moves from “chilly” John Coleman to “jock” Jules Furth, followed by “gorgeous” actor Ken Howard, and ending, we are told, with her current husband, “Dr. Right.”
Would her life have been different if she had been born a generation later, into a different, more woman-friendly world?
“[T]he country was on the cusp of the women’s movement,” Howard writes, “and although I regret it now, I didn’t cotton to their message then . . . I never felt unfairly treated because I was a woman. Actually, I found it useful (both literally and figuratively) to bat my eyelashes.”
The reader who rolls her own eyes, reading Howard’s observation, gets sucked back into the story by another nugget of authorial reflection. “[L]ooking back, I find that my view was too narrow. Just because I felt I didn’t need ‘the sisterhood’ did not negate the fact that a lot of other women did. I suspect that had I been five or ten years younger when all of this was in the air, I would’ve been much more receptive.”
This passage hints at the value of “Eat, Drink & Remarry’’ as a period piece: Buried within this self-serving portrait are routine references to the anti-Semitism and misogyny of our nation’s postwar, pre-feminist times. As a Jew, Margo Howard learned that her background and all it afforded her couldn’t protect against “restricted” housing and other such bigoted insults. As a woman, Howard did what women of her station, and less advantaged ones, were offered little choice but to do: Try to marry well.
Meredith Maran is the author of many books of nonfiction and the novel “A Theory of Small Earthquakes.” Her next book, “Why We Write About Ourselves,” will be out from Plume in 2015; follow her on Twitter @meredithmaran.