By Nora Ephron

37,616 ratings - 3.6* vote

Is it possible to write a sidesplitting novel about the breakup of the perfect marriage? If the writer is Nora Ephron, the answer is a resounding yes. For in this inspired confection of adultery, revenge, group therapy, and pot roast, the creator of Sleepless in Seattle reminds us that comedy depends on anguish as surely as a proper gravy depends on flour and butter.Seven Is it possible to write a sidesplitting novel about the breakup of the perfect marriage? If the writer is Nora Ephron,

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Book details

Paperback, 179 pages
May 28th 1996 by Vintage

(first published March 12th 1983)

Original Title
0679767959 (ISBN13: 9780679767954)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


This is one of those books that shows you how much a writer can get away with when they possess a strong voice. Heartburn is a fun novel about marital infidelity but it only hits one note. There's no depth or complexity to the story. Instead, it reads like a comedic monologue albeit a very enjoyable one, but still... I wanted more, no matter how many times I laughed or smiled to myself.


The night before I got married, my future in-laws hosted a rehearsal dinner for our wedding party and our out-of-town guests. When we gathered in the living room late in the evening to make a toast to our future marriage, one of the Brooklyn relatives came over and grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me to face everyone in the room. She then pointed dramatically to my future husband and said in a very loud voice, “You see him? You see this man you want to marry? Well, look at him now, honey. Look at him and think of every bad habit he has, because whatever he does. . . snores, farts, lies, cheats. . . he will continue to do that, and he'll do it even more. Every bad habit he has, he'll do it the same or more, so don't marry him unless you accept that you're marrying the bad behavior, too.”

I did marry him, and I don't regret it, but, as much as I hate to admit it, the old bitch from Brooklyn was right. Your partner's bad habits do NOT change, and they do, in fact, continue at the same level or increase.

Nora Ephron, the writer of Heartburn, must not have had an annoying relative from Brooklyn to scare her straight. She married three different men, and, if you read her bio or some of her essays, you'll realize quickly that she was gung-ho about getting married, but never quite figured out the secret to staying married. She also seemed to choose men, over and over again, who couldn't keep their hands off of women who weren't their wives.

Nora Ephron was married to her first husband, then divorced after 9 years. She then married her second husband, the famous journalist, Carl Bernstein, and their marriage produced two children but ended badly after she discovered he was having an affair with another woman. She married a third man. . . but that's another story.

Rachel Samstat, the protagonist of Heartburn, was married to her first husband, then divorced after 9 years. She then married her second husband, the journalist Mark Feldman, and their marriage produced two children but ended badly after she discovered he was having an affair with another woman.

Get it?

This book is so autobiographical, Nora Ephron's ex-husband almost sued her over it.

But my problem wasn't the autobiographical piece.

The nuts and bolts are here. . . the cold, hard facts, the character “sketches,” but Nora Ephron was a journalist and a screenwriter, not a writer of literary fiction.

To be honest, this book was a crying shame for me. It could have been SO much more than it is. I wanted to jump in and rewrite passages. I wanted to jump in and make these characters feel more real.

Why/how is it funny that Rachel is too messed-up to pick a faithful man, and why is it written as an unfunny comedy routine? Occasionally there was true feeling here, but then POOF, it was gone.

I felt like the whole novel was written by a nervous Pomeranian dog.

Ephron's story inspired a good movie by the same name (the screenplay written, of course, by Nora Ephron), and an excellent soundtrack by Carly Simon, the title track being Coming Around Again. So, all is not lost.

But, frankly, this "novel" gave me heartburn.


The week before Nora Ephron died, I happened to order this (used) book, which I've been meaning to read for quite some time since she referenced it often in her essays & interviews. Apparently I'm the only woman in America who thinks this is not particularly good.

Even the previous recipient had a note written to her on the first page that says as much: "...No woman's bookshelf should be without this!" Seriously? Well, maybe there's one other woman out there who didn't like it also, because that woman gave it away to Amazon... And left a McDonald's receipt ca. 2007 for a grilled chicken salad she ate in Sarasota, Florida.

Loosely based on her middle marriage falling apart-- when her husband (real-life Carl Bernstein) left her pregnant for another woman--Ephron's first person story screams of the early 1980s it was written in.... Lots of (now-) weirdly inappropriate gay/lesbian references, an overly-harsh rejection of Washington, DC as a city (not just the politics), and a wacky acceptance of bourgeois people cheating on their spouses. How can Rachel, the protagonist, claim she is a liberalized New York-y woman if she keeps going back to her husband who cheats on her? Because she's a cheater also? (apparently.) I don't get it. Ephron's character, Rachel, is generally unlikable. (I never liked Sally from "When Harry met Sally" either).

Fortunately this book is only 178 pages. I gave Ephron an extra star only because I miss (most of) her.

Kelly (and the Book Boar)

Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

I grew up with Nora Ephron. Her movies taught me everything I would ever need to know about having unrealistic expectations when it comes to matters of the heart . . .

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They made me laugh . . .

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And sometimes they even made me cry . . .

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That's why it's so hard for me to give this book such a low rating. But it's a low rating I must give because Heartburn just wasn't very good. I'll let Nora's own words do most of the talking here so I don't have to, but to briefly summarize the plot - this is a fictional accounting of the actual demise of Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein's marriage. According to the blurb it is sidesplittingly funny. In reality?

"Not that this book has an enormous amount of plot, but it has more plot than I've ever dealt with before. My other books just meander from one person to the next, whereas this one has a story with a beginning and an end."

Well, in theory it has all of that, but in all actuality Heartburn reads like a rambling, frantic journal entry rather than a well thought out novel.

Entries such as the following:

"Sometimes I believe that love dies but hope springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that hope dies but love springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals love, and sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals good sex. Sometimes I believe that love is as natural as the tides, and sometimes I believe that love is an act of will. Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is taking it. Sometimes I believe that love is essential, and sometimes I believe that the only reason love is essential is that otherwise you spend all your times looking for it."

would be pretty damn striking and memorable if the book weren't filled with schizophrenic rants such as these.

I'm pretty sure writing Heartburn was a much needed therapeutic experience for Nora Ephron. She says herself:

"Because if I tell the story, I control the version. If I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much. Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it."

I believe she did, in fact, need to write this story . . . but I feel like she needed to do it for herself and it didn't necessarily need to be published.

Now the movie????

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One of my favorites. This is one of the rare cases (yep, I'm still looking at you Winston Groom and your pitiful excuse for a story that was the print version of Forrest Gump) where the movie was better than the book. Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson had such great chemistry, there was a lot of humor that I felt the book was missing, and Jack played his role so well it was easy to see how even though Carl Mark was a total shit Nora Rachel could want to fight in order to stay in love and married to him. Nora Ephron was a great writer of film and the movie version of Heartburn proves it.

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Tanya Burr

I gave this book 3 stars, because although I enjoyed it, it's not a book I finished and instantly began recommending to everyone I know. It was a very quick read and I liked how unique it was with the comfort food recipes set within the novel. I thought it was clever and funny how Nora made light of a very sad situation...heartbreak.


3.5 stars
“I married him against all evidence. I married him believing that marriage doesn’t work, that love dies, that passion fades, and in so doing I became the kind of romantic only a cynic is truly capable of being.”
The history and origins of this novel and the subsequent film are a matter of record. It charts the end of Ephron’s marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein. The focus is Bernstein’s affair with Margaret Jay. The characters are very thinly disguised. In the book Ephron’s character (Rachel) explains to her therapist why she is writing about it;
“Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”
So I told her why:
Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”
Ephron was seven months pregnant when she discovered the affair; the novel charts her reactions and those of her husband. The book is full of one-liners, many of them very funny, some of them later finding their way into the script of “When Harry Met Sally”. The comment about her husband being the sort of man who could “have sex with a Venetian blind” illustrates Ephron’s turn of phrase. The inability of men to find things in the kitchen;
“And if you say to him…’in the refrigerator’… and he goes to look, an interesting thing happens, a medical phenomenon that has not been sufficiently remarked upon. The effect of the refrigerator light on the male cornea. Blindness….. ‘I don’t see it anywhere.'”
There are some very funny moments, the key lime pie, the hamsters in her first marriage, the group therapy session.
Amongst the humour is raw pain and this is a story of survival and there is a sense of the sadness of it when Rachel says that the most difficult thing will be forgetting being in love. But this is also part cookbook as in the novel Rachel is a food writer (this is from Ephron’s sister Delia), there are a number of recipes dotted around the place as well.
I enjoyed the ironic and biting humour, but there was one niggle for me. We have made racist language unacceptable and progress has been made towards making homophobic and sexist language unacceptable. It does seem though that we still think it is ok to deride those with mental ill health and make jokes about “loony bins”. I am old enough to remember the old hospitals where we used to “warehouse” people in the UK and spent some time volunteering in one when I was at university. We still have a long way to go in this area.
Apart from that caveat’ this was funny.


My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

‘I think I was so entranced with being a couple that I didn’t even notice that the person I though I was a couple with thought he was a couple with someone else.’

Heartburn is Nora Ephron’s first and only novel, and this breaks my heart because I adored this story. Never did I think it so thoroughly possible to take a story about heartbreak and turn it into something so full of life and jest. Heartbreak is a devastating thing that we humans are forced to suffer through, but can you even imagine having to undergo it at 38 years old and 7 months pregnant? Rachel discovers a note from her husbands lover in a book of children’s songs, suggesting that he sing them to his son. Him and Rachel’s son. Written with such stunning clarity, it’s effortless to understand the rage (and embarrassment) that Rachel felt. But being pregnant and having a toddler left her with a precarious decision on whether to stay or go.

‘Maybe he’s missed me, I thought as we came around the corner. Maybe he’s come to his sense. Maybe he’s remembered he loves me. Maybe he’s full of remorse. There was a police car parked in front of the house. Maybe he’s dead, I thought. That wouldn’t solve everything, but it would solve a few things. He wasn’t, of course. They never are. When you want them to die, they never do.’

Rachel Samstat has such a wry and cynical sense of humor (the best type of humor) that manages to never tread into bitterness. I’m not sure if it’s because Meryl Streep herself played Rachel in the 1986 movie adaptation of Heartburn but she voiced Rachel impeccably (do yourself a favor and listen to the clip here). I spent half the time listening to this story laughing uproariously with tears in my eyes. She portrayed a perfect combination of indifference and restraint while handling a tough situation but opening up the dam of emotions when absolutely necessary. It encompassed everything about true heartbreak and just how calamitous it can be, but galvanizing as well. Infused within her tale of heartbreak are comfort food recipes such as Sour Cream Peach Pie, plain ol’ mashed potatoes, and of course Key Lime Pie; perfect for consuming or weaponizing, if ever the situation calls for it.

Paul Bryant

I don’t mean to put the boot into this slightly funny but not that funny wisp of a novel but there were two things about it which got my goat, and my goat was just standing around chewing on an old rusty tin without a thought for tomorrow when this book got it. The first was that this book is about a foodie, so she is forever going on about her food show on tv, her cookery books, and shoving in recipes, and using many words that I must assume refer to something people eat but I don’t know what they are, like Hamantaschen pastries, tzimmes, rumaki, kreplach, arugola, radicchio, grieven and many others.

I never think about food unless I’m eating it or with reluctance shoving bits of it together so I can then eat it, so for me this was just like the irritation I often encounter when switching on the tv or radio in Britain to be deluged with foodie tv and radio rubbish which are second only to programmes about selling your house or buying a house in Australia or the countryside or to do it up and sell it again. House programmes account for about 50% of tv programmes in this country with food programmes around 45%. Just so you see I’m not exaggerating here’s a little list of current programmes

Saturday Kitchen
The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure
Edwardian Farm
Million Pound Menu
Best Bites
Best Of British
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares
Come Dine With Me
My Kitchen Rules
The Food Programme

Ugh. So that was one thing, then there was the other thing. Here’s another little list

1. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
2. Fear of Flying (1973)
3. Most of Woody Allen’s movies (1969-2018)
4. Heartburn (1983)

Yes, these are all comedies, all fictional representations of Jewish American middle class angst, and all really similar, with endless jokes about food, sex, adultery, being Jewish and what appears to be the central feature of modern Jewish American life – no, not religion, how quaint would that be – it’s analysis – therapy – shrinks.

Nora Ephron's problem was that she came after Erica Jong and Philip Roth for me. Actually, Roth was the Jewish American rantmeister par excellence, and I can't really see why anyone else would bother with this kind of stuff, he owned it. His direct-to-the-reader rants are miles above all these others.

The analysis aka therapy thing is never explained. It is like golf. Very mysterious for an English person. In this country we don’t do analysis, instead we insist that everyone should have counselling. Did someone look at you funny in a supermarket checkout queue? Get counselling! I imagine this to be a very very poor miserable embarrassed broke down version of analysis conducted by people who have never heard of the concept of the unconscious or anyone called Freud. Counselling must be like a car that’s been jacked up and had the wheels stolen. It’s still a car but it won’t go very far.

Maybe analysis is not necessarily Jewish American, maybe it’s something you automatically do in America if you can afford it. Like golf seems to be a pursuit every man is totally desperate to do just the minute their income gets to a … certain… level… NOW! Dash to the golf club! Made it! Poor people do not seem to play golf at all. Instead they can become caddies, which I believe are people who traipse round after the rich golfers pretending wildly that they don’t ever hate or resent them and the golfers affably go along with the blatant pretence.

So in America the main motivating factors impelling people up the greasy poles of their careers is analysis and golf.

Given that I am very profoundly indifferent to the joys of therapy, golf and cooking I can only give this novel 2.5 stars, rounded up to three because I feel rather mean.


Just felt like laughing, so picked this book up to visit with again. Fave quote: "Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in autumn, and I'll show you a real asshole."


HEARTBURN is a story about infidelity inspired by true life events, written with humor....and a side of recipes. It's told in a crazy mixed up way expressing feelings and thoughts of the protagonist and admittedly a story Nora Ephron needed to get off her chest.

Rachel Samstat is 38 and she writes cookbooks. While seven months pregnant with her second child, she finds out her second husband, like her first, is having an affair. And the worst part, he loves this woman and it's been going on for the entire seven months of her pregnancy.

As the story jumps around, we learn about Rachel's feelings of betrayal, life growing up, her relatives, her crazy alcoholic parents, gossipy friends and the many recipes in her cookbooks.

The movie version with Jack Nicholson playing the philandering husband was excellent. HEARTBURN the book, disappointing, although there are some funnies.