Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions from a Happy Marriage
By Helen Ellis
Doubleday, 2023
Hardcover, $18.79
Genre: Humor
Reviewed by Lynn Lamere

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge book cover

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions from a Happy Marriage by Helen Ellis is, put simply, one laugh after another. A chuckle is inevitable while reading her essays in one sitting or enjoying one at a time. Ellis’ musings are a tribute to her husband and their twenty-plus years together, sharing intimacies such as the effectiveness of Viagra and the trials of a snoring bed partner. The collection of essays is truly a testament to a happy marriage, complete with anecdotes of cats, plants, and things in boxes found along the way.

As the title reveals, the essays focus mainly on her marriage to Lex, a first-generation Greek American, whom she never calls by name, only “my husband.” Anytime a native New Yorker, albeit one with a Greek heritage, and a Southerner (Ellis grew up in Alabama) marry cultures will clash. Ellis educates us on how to collect art that appeals to her husband (a rabbit head may or may not be considered worthy), and how she becomes a pretty good Greek cook. Of course, she doesn’t just talk about it, but rather she walks animatedly through their marriage, complete with Southern metaphors and idioms. In the essay “We Are Not That Couple,” Ellis hilariously shares how she and her husband find common ground by recounting the things they will and will not do as a couple.

In one essay, she emphatically explains that the best part of a wedding is the worst part of a wedding. She was late to her own wedding at the Greek Cathedral on the Upper East Side of Manhattan because she could not get a taxi. Her father who was escorting her to the wedding said, “Helen Michelle, they’re not going to start the wedding without you.” But the tardy arrival isn’t the only thing that goes wrong: The Greek restaurant where the reception is booked burns to the ground (or maybe it was just a kitchen fire) two days before the wedding. Even as the Greek relatives question her flower crown and charcoal-gray wool dress, she doesn’t agree that it is a bad omen that bad stuff happens. A bad omen is a runaway groom. According to Ellis, the way a couple handles adversity at their wedding predicts how they will handle it later in life. She doesn’t avoid tough subjects; end-of-life care is even discussed, including casseroles.

While Ellis manages to humorously share the ups and downs of a twenty-year marriage, she also carries the reader through the stress of living through the pandemic within the confines of an apartment in New York City. She and her husband, like many others during the pandemic, undertake home improvement by painting the TV room Sherwin-Williams’ “Rejuvenate.” Thus the room becomes the Coral Lounge and the center of life within their NYC apartment. Ellis also hilariously recounts how she becomes a plant lady, which her husband hardly notices.

Not everything Ellis writes in her Coral Lounge collection is funny. That mainstay of a girl’s childhood, the sleepover, is poignantly shared. She dishes secrets such as making prank calls to teachers snarky enough that they quit teaching to seeing violence within friends’ homes. Ellis remembers a friend’s stepfather who crawled into bed with them while another girl’s dad woke her while studying the girls from the doorway as they slept. She told her mother about the instances, and she never slept over at those girls’ houses again. In today’s world, those events would be met with much stronger repercussions. Ellis admits that she still locks her bedroom door because of those sleepovers.

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge is a delight no matter how it is read: devoured in one sitting, read one essay at a time, or enjoyed by listening to Ellis herself read the audiobook. Not only will readers chuckle but they will also gain a wealth of knowledge about a very happy marriage.

Lynn Lamere is a composition instructor at Gulf Coast State College. She grew up in Andalusia, Alabama, and now resides in Miramar Beach, Florida.