Jan 19 2014 12:49pm

First Look: Linda Yellin’s What Nora Knew (January 21, 2014)

What Nora Knew by Linda YellinLinda Yellin
What Nora Knew
Simon and Schuster / January 21, 2014 / $16.00 print, $11.66 digital

Molly Hallberg is a thirty-nine-year-old divorced writer living in New York City who wants her own column, a Wikipedia entry, and to never end up in her family’s Long Island upholstery business. For the past four years Molly’s been on staff for an online magazine, covering all the wacky assignments. She’s snuck vibrators through security scanners, speed-dated undercover, danced with the Rockettes, and posed nude for a Soho art studio.

Fearless in everything except love, Molly is now dating a forty-four-year old chiropractor. He’s comfortable, but safe. When Molly is assigned to write a piece about New York City romance “in the style of Nora Ephron,” she flunks out big-time. She can’t recognize romance. And she can’t recognize the one man who can go one-on-one with her, the one man who gets her. But with wit, charm, whip-smart humor, and Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies, Molly learns to open her heart and suppress her cynicism in this bright, achingly funny novel.

In Linda Yellin's What Nora Knew, Molly Hallberg had doubts about her marriage ten minutes after saying “I do,” even though her then-husband was considered “quite the catch.” But you know how it goes:

And we were fabulous in the sack together. The dynamic duo. Scarlett and Rhett. Antony and Cleopatra. Tarzan and Jane. I’m sure I wasn’t the first woman to find herself wearing lace and tulle and standing with an armful of white lilies because of sex. Love may be blind, but great sex is the ultimate blindfold.

Twelve days before their three year anniversary, Molly’s marriage is over. Her husband found someone else—his secretary—to have fabulous sex with.
With Molly’s past history of bad relationships, she closes the book on the magic of romantic love. But Molly’s not done with sex and back rubs; who better to give a perfect back rub, then Dr. Russell Edley, a chiropractor she met through a Groupon deal.

Two things cause Molly’s life to spiral out of control: trying to write a piece about New York City romance “in the style of Nora Ephron,”’ and meeting Cameron Duncan, whom Angela, Molly’s best friend, states is the Dashiell Hammett of this generation.

It doesn’t matter that in every book Cameron kills off his hero’s love interest, he can do no wrong. Women love him. What could be more “more endearing” than a man who names Franklin Dixon’s The Hardy Boys as his literary influence.

But Molly doesn’t want to recognize or acknowledge her attraction to Cameron. Her ex-husband was irresistible to women and she‘s not going to make that mistake again, even when Nora Ephron, in a dream, tries to show her the way:

I’ve just walked out of Saks Fifth Avenue having bought a pair of new socks when Nora Ephron and Nancy Drew drive up in Nancy’s blue convertible.

Nancy’s behind the wheel and Nora’s carrying a pot roast and homemade cookies. “Get in! Nora says. We drive to a bar on Second Avenue, past a mysterious old clock and crumbling wall and go inside. . . Once we’re inside the bar I’m eating Nora cookies and she’s giving me the recipe. The bar’s hopping. . . Harry Connick Jr. playing in the background . . .two television hanging over the bar . . one’s playing When Harry Met Sally and the other’s showing You’ve Got Mail. Nancy Drew . . .uses her flashlight to point out two men. The bar’s smoky so I can never see their faces, but one man’s in a shirt and tie sitting by himself, staring at his cell phone. Women, laughing and having fun, surround the second man. Except—even though his face is a blur—he looks straight at me and holds out a rose. Nancy Drew asks, “Which man do you want?” I start to head over to the nice, quiet man with the tie . . .Nora Ephron says, “Don’t be an imbecile! And snatches my cookie away.

Even her friends are not shy about speaking their mind:

Over wild-halibut gefilte fish Kristine told me she was exhausted from dating.

What’s the difference between a first date and an interview?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. “Two glasses of wine.”

“That’s why I’m grateful I found Russell.”

Kristine groaned. “What the difference between Russell and a heart attack?”


“One’s exciting.” . . .

You know Russell reminds me of the boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail,” Angela said.

“Greg Kinnear,” Kristine said. “But I think he’s more like Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle. Although they’re both interchangeably bland.

“Russell’s not bland,” I said. “And I like Bill Pullman; I like Greg Kinnear.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kristine said. “We all want Tom Hanks.”

Molly is determined to make Russell fit because she doesn’t believe in 'the one.' She tried chemistry once, and now is happy with comfortable or is she? When she tries to bring a little magic to their relationship, even Russell inadvertently admits that what they have is not passionate or even romantic:

“Russell, do you consider me romantic?”

He paused midchicken. “In what way?”

“In a romantic way.”

“Sure, why not?”

“Well, for starters, I’m dressed like a prostitute and you haven’t notice.”

He leaned closer. “I thought your hair was different.”

“How do you like eating by candlelight?”

“It’s fine if it makes you happy."

“It’s supposed to make us happy.”

“Candles are for women.”


“Sure. A woman will light candles in her bedroom. A woman will take a bath and light candles. No guy would do that.”

“You’ve had girlfriends who take baths with candles?”

“No comment.” . . .

“Do you like taking baths with candles? I asked.

Russell took a bit of his crab cake, chewing it slowly before saying. “Every relationship’s different. There are women you take baths with and women you don’t.”

And with me, you don’t?”

“Molly, that’s not who you are. If I said, 'Let’s take a bath together,' what would you do?”

I didn’t answer.

“See? Not you.”

What Nora Knew is a charming look back at Nora Ephron’s most popular romantic comedies, expertly woven within the story and a glimpse of New York life—the visits to the Hamptons, New York street fairs and Bloomingdale’s. I have seen a few of the sites there, but didn’t realize I needed to check out Forty Carrots restaurant and the frozen yogurt there. Something I plan to rectify. But back to the book.

Molly and then Cameron talk about being enthralled by the trek of finding true love:

In Sleepless in Seattle, we know Meg’s going to end up with Tom Hanks. She’ll end up with Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. But we still keep watching. We’re still mesmerized by the journey.

And so you will be mesmerized and charmed by Molly’s journey.

Learn more or order a copy of What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin, available on January 21, 2014:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound



Leigh Davis, Blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review, Leigh.
2. RedIza
Good review, I love the heart attack comparison lol !
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I've put this on my must-read list. As one of the few who doesn't get Nora Ephrom's 'romances', I'm hoping this will explain it to me.
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