By Curtis Sittenfeld
Sally, the heroine of Curtis Sittenfeld’s jaunty new novel, is your classic neurotic New York-based Jew.
Successful and competent in her professional life as a writer on a late-night talk show (think Saturday Night Live), her personal life is far less developed, and she hides behind sarcasm and humour rather than confronting the reasons why.
The book may be titled Romantic Comedy, but in Sittenfeld’s capable hands the female lead is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but an appealingly flawed character, uncomfortable in her own skin, wary of introspection and keen to deflect any compliment that comes her way.
OK, so Sally isn’t technically Jewish; she’s a Midwesterner, like Sittenfeld herself (the author does have a Jewish father).
Fiction allows for fantasy, and casting as I read, I imagined her as Lizzie Caplan, the actress who latterly brought her straight-talking wit to the TV adaptation of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s hit 2019 novel Fleishman is in Trouble.
As to who would play her counterpart, a pop heartthrob now in his late 30s, yet still with the voice, looks and charm to make women and girls squeal, I’m undecided. But, as with the book generally, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had in considering it.
This is not Sittenfeld’s most memorable work, and I say that as someone who has lapped up everything she’s written, from her provocative debut Prep, about a teenager’s sexual awakening at an elite boarding school, to her novels fictionalising the lives of first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.
But even when she’s phoning it in, her focus on examining the real lives of real women makes this far superior to most examples of the genre.
The plot is paper thin, and some of the late-night show humour is lost on this British reader.
There’s no real will-they, won’t-they dynamic, you know they will — it’s just a matter of how and when.
Throw in a dog, a few misunderstandings and a Covid backdrop to create the high stakes necessary for a rom-com to transition you from meet-cute to happily ever after, and you there you have it. It’s like reading a tub of high-quality ice cream.
Sally, cynical but a softie at heart, harbours dreams of writing a feminist rom-com, where the characters have depth and true chemistry and engage in plenty of verbal foreplay. Naturally, that’s what Sittenfeld offers up with this novel, in spades.
Book review: Romantic Comedy - From meet-cute to happily ever after
Curtis Sittenfeld's latest features an appealingly flawed character, uncomfortable in her own skin, wary of introspection and keen to deflect any compliment
"Romantic Comedy" by Curtis Sittenfeld