Ladies' Lunch: And Other Stories

Ladies' Lunch: And Other Stories

by Lore Segal
Ladies' Lunch: And Other Stories

Ladies' Lunch: And Other Stories

by Lore Segal


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Notes From Your Bookseller

This absolutely delightful collection of short stories about nonagenarians will have you cackling one moment and gasping at its keen insights the next. A testament to the power of long-standing friendship, you won't regret picking up this little gem of a book.

National Jewish Book Award Finalist

The New Yorker's Best Book of the Year!

"Segal writes with welcome clarity about life’s final years, and if her characters are not always as wise as they think they are, Segal eyes them all with the unsentimental wisdom of a life spent writing wondrous stories and essays, a career spent telling the truth." - Slate

"For almost six decades Segal has quietly produced some of the best fiction and essays in American literature..."—The New York Times

Beloved New Yorker writer Lore Segal, at 95-years-old, is a national treasure. Working at the height of her powers, in this story collection she turns her gimlet eye and compassionate humor on aging and life in the slow lane.

From the master of the short short comes a collection of 16 new stories featuring old friends who have loved and lunched together for over 40 years. These erudite, sharp-minded nonagenarians offer startling insights into friendship, family and aging.

Can the group organize a visit to one of their number in her new, and detested, assisted living situation? Is this a fabulous party with old friends, or a funeral reception? And does who was sleeping with whom, way back when, still matter?

In story after story, Segal's voice is always hilarious and urbane, heartbreaking and profound, keen and utterly unsentimental, as she tackles aging's affronts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781685891015
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publication date: 09/26/2023
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 42,827
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Lore Segal is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Shakespeare's Kitchen, as well as the novels Half the Kingdom, Lucinella, Other People's Houses, Her First American and the collection The Journal I Did Not Keep. She is the recipient of the American Academy Arts and Letters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The O'Henry Prize and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The New Republic, and numerous other publications. In 2023, Segal was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives and works in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Ruth, Frank, and Dario

The February ladies’ lunch met at Ruth’s Riverside apartment. “Ladies’ lunch” is pronounced in quotation marks. The five women have grown old coming together, every other month or so, for the last thirty or more years, around one another’s tables. Ruth, Bridget, Farah, Lotte, Bessie are long-time New Yorkers; their origins in California, County Mayo, Tehran, Vienna and the Bronx might have grounded them but does not these days often surface.

“You remember,” Ruth said, “that we are the people to whom we tell our stories? Well, I have a story for you.”

“Great,” said Lotte.

“Good,” said Farah and Bessie.

“A number of stories,” Ruth told them, “and at the end there is a puzzle.”

“Good egg,” said Bridget.

Ruth said:

There was this party at Sylvia’s that turned out to be a shivah for her cousin. Sylvia came over and asked me should she get me a chair. I told her, “Thanks, very kind, but I‘ll find one when I need to sit.”

“Get you a drink?” she said.

I told her, “Sylvia! I can manage. Honestly. The cane is for balance.”

“And l should stop fussing and go away?”

“You don’t have to go away.” We laughed and Sylvia said she hoped it was OK that she had given Frank my number. He was dying to talk to me.

“Frank? Which Frank is this?”

“Ruth, you know Frank Bruno.”

“Frank Bruno, yes, oh, I think it’s that I think of him as Bruno Frank.”

Sylvia said, “Frank works in a gallery on Bleecker Street and wants to know about your old buddy, your client – what was Dario d’Alessi? Anyhow he wants to talk to you.”

“So why doesn’t he walk over and talk?”

Sylvia said, “He says he’s afraid of you.”

I was annoyed. “That is such nonsense. What does it even mean? Where is he?”

“Over there,” said Sylvia, “walking out the door.”

It had irritated her, Ruth told the friends, at lunch, to find herself waiting for Frank to call. The prospect of telling her old Dario stories, she said, had opened a window onto such a chunk of time.

She called Sylvia and asked for Bruno’s number.

“Bruno?” Sylvia said. “Which Bruno is this?”

“Frank. I mean, Frank Bruno who wants to talk to me.”

Ruth had dialled and hung up because she couldn’t think, at the moment, if it was Bruno, or Frank. Frank. She dialled. “Frank, this is Ruth. Your asking about Dario d’Alessi has started all these stories in my head.”

Frank said, “That’s what I hoped! God! That’s what I want. I Googled you. You were Dario d’Alessi’s lawyer.”

“I was,” she had told him. “There was paperwork to do with the people he hired to fabricate – ‘fabricate’, that was the word – one of his sculptures. I got to go upstate with him into this sort of hangar where men were working on a twenty-foot black curl. I was never happier. I loved listening to the craftsmen talking with each other.”

“God!” Frank said. “How did you meet him?”

Ruth said, “I was one of the groupies who hung around whenever he came to New York. Years later, I visited him in the Italian Alps, in his place. It was like a Mesa Verde cave dwelling, if you can imagine a Bauhaus cave carved out of the Italian mountainside. Did you know him?”

“Me. No! No,” Frank said. “I saw him once coming out of a restaurant on East 17th Street and I walked behind him for a number of blocks. He went into a grocery and I watched him through the window. He came out, went into a liquor store and bought a bottle. Then he got into a bus going west.”

Ruth told her friends, “I had the thrill of thinking: so that’s what Dario did on the way over to my place – like watching a scene happening thirty years ago. But then Frank said he’d been in his twenties and too shy to catch up and tell this man that he loved his show – so it must have been Dario’s early show, years before the one-man at the Guggenheim, before I even knew him. I told Frank that Dario might have been grateful. He used to talk about the desolation of that early success and his first New York visit before he knew people.”

Frank said the gallery had just acquired a d’Alessi.

“Which one?”

“Called ‘Hatch’.”

“I remember, I remember! Oh, oh, I remember the bunch of us sitting with a bottle of Malbec trying to come up with a name for a new d’Alessi piece, to replace ‘Untitled’. It had to be what Clement Greenberg called a word ‘independent of meaning’, in the days when our favourite cartoon was a museum-goer wiping a tender tear in front of a Russian constructivist sculpture. You don’t know till you try how hard it is to think of words that signify no object, or feeling, or value . . . I’d wake up in the night with the sense of triumph: ‘Bout!’ – but that means ‘strife’. ‘Upstanding’ got shot down because it commented on ‘standing down’. There are so many stories!” I said.

Frank said that I was a resource and asked if he could take me to lunch, but the day of the lunch he called for a raincheck. Major snafu at the gallery. I’ve invited him up for a drink.

The March ladies’ lunch went out to Bessie’s in Old Rockingham. Frank Bruno had not made it to Ruth’s for that drink. Someone from the gallery called. Frank was out of state and would call as soon as he got back.

The friends said, “Tell us the d’Alessi stories you were going to tell Frank Bruno.”

Ruth said, “Here’s something I didn’t understand when I was visiting Dario. I called his attention to a man, a farmer, sitting on the pavement in the village square with a little goat on his lap. The man held the animal’s hoof the way you might hold a child’s, or a young girl’s hand. Dario said, ‘He’s going to take the goat to be slaughtered,’ which I always remembered afterwards, the way you remember something that doesn’t add up.”

Ruth said, “Dario took me on a climb. He climbed like a mountaineer – one foot after another at an even pace. I impressed myself by overtaking him. Then I had to sit down and recover my breath while he moved steadily on and up.

“And the terrifying drive up the mountain road to see the oldest houses on the highest range. You have to understand that Dario was the world’s worst driver. And on the way back we ran out of petrol. Because you are statistically more likely to come upon a wayside crucifix memorialising someone’s plunge to death than a gas pump, the locals – unlike Dario – drive with a spare can of gas. Dario and I sat with the car door open and we sat and we sat until the milkman’s truck came up the road. The milkman syphoned off enough gas to get us back to Altomonte. Dario took out his wallet. I had enough Italian to understand that the milkman said ‘No, no no, no grazie! Signor Dario, no! Che mi faccia un autografo.’ I wondered how many upstate New York milkmen would prefer a de Kooning or a Rothko signature to a couple of twenties.”

At Farah’s lunch in April, Ruth reported that Frank Bruno had cancelled another appointment – the friends began to smile – one of those spring colds that are so famously hard to shake.

“Ruth,” Farah, asked her, “Are you annoyed with him?”

Ruth said, “I would have said no way, except that I’m telling you about it.”

Bessie’s husband, Colin, was not well, so she did not come to the May lunch at Lotte’s.

Frank had had to go and get a grown son out of some snafu and hadn’t made it to the latest appointment.

Here was the puzzle, and it engaged the four friends’ powers of speculation.
Lotte said, “First thing, if someone tells you they have a snafu, a cold, a son, is to believe them.”

Farah said, “One can imagine a twenty-year-old too shy to approach a man with a famous name, but what stops the middle-aged New Yorker from crossing the room to speak to a woman?”

“An old woman,” Ruth said.

“At a New York party,” said Lotte.

“A New York shivah,” Ruth said.

The June ladies’ lunch met at Bridget’s. Frank had not made it to Ruth’s place and Bridget said she had a story:

“I asked my delightful twenty-year-old niece, Lily, if she remembers refusing to come into the house if my ninety-year-old mother was in. Lily says she remembers that my mother wore the earpiece of her glasses across her ear instead of tucked behind the ear and she had been afraid. She remembers crying and not wanting to come in.”

“Lily was how old?” asked Lotte.

“Six years, maybe.”

“And how does that throw light on a grown man not talking to Ruth at a party?”

“At a shivah,” Ruth said.

Bridget said, “Just another story that doesn’t add up.”

The ladies’ lunch met back at Ruth’s early in July, before everybody dispersed for the summer. No, Frank had not come. Frank had called . . .

The friends began to smile.

“Frank said that there was a fire, in the apartment next to his apartment.”

The friends laughed.

Bridget said, “Maybe there really was a fire?”

“It’s possible,” Ruth said.

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