A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Wednesday, November 28

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

The short review is this: however you felt about Curtis Sittenfeld's first book, Prep—liked it, loved it, hated it—is probably exactly how you're going to feel about her second book, The Man of My Dreams. Me? I liked alot, and so I liked a lot.

Not that this is a sequel in any way, but our star Hannah Gavener is pretty much the same sort of excruciatingly self-conscious, hyper-aware, deeply uncomfortable AND condescending person as Prep's protagonist Lee Fiora. The biggest difference in The Man of My Dreams is the scope—Hannah takes us through her life from her early teens to her late twenties—and the author's focus, which is not so much on the friendships and the social pitfalls that befuddled and befell Prep's Lee, but rather on Hannah's often painful, always overly self-complicated search for love, through flings and crushes and romances.

Among Hannah's men: office buddy Ted, with whom she almost loses her virginity after a drunken afternoon... until she tells him of her sexual status; Oliver the anti-monogamist, who toys with her for years while openly screwing every woman in sight, including, quite possibly, Hannah's free-spirited cousin Fig; Henry, Fig's decent, much-suffering boyfriend and with whom Hannah is obsessed; Mike, who treats her like a queen, even as she breaks his heart; and the boy she meets in the park when she's 14, who asks to see her "bathing suit" and shows her his eagle tattoo... an image she'll call to mind years later during sex with Mike in order to achieve orgasm.

I think Sittenfeld is a terrific writer, as much for her broad strokes and the way she nails intense, complex emotions as for her small, sharp observations of the meaning behind the most mundane details of everyday life. Here's an excerpt:


She wishes she had sunglasses, but otherwise it's so nice to be headed down the highway on a perfect late-April afternoon, so nice to just be going somewhere. She hasn't ridden in a car since she was home for spring break over a month ago. And she was prepared for Henry to listen to some terrible kind of male music—heavy metal or maybe pretentious white-man rappers—but the CD that's playing is Bruce Springsteen. Quite possibly, this is the happiest Hannah has ever been in her entire life.

Henry does have sunglasses, with a faded purple strap, a sporty strap, around the back. He keeps an atlas in the car, already folded open to a two-page spread, also faded, of Massachusetts. "You're navigating," he said when they got in the car, and when Hannah saw how far away Hyannis was, a flash of excitement went off inside her.

They don't talk at first, except Hannah saying, "Do you need to take Ninety-three to get on Three?" and Henry shaking his head. Almost half an hour has passed by the time he turns down the volume on the car stereo.

"So she called out of the blue and said 'Come get me'?" he asks.

"More or less."

"You're a good cousin, Hannah."

"Fig can be pretty persuasive."

"That's one way to put it," Henry says. Hannah does not point out that he, too, is in the car.

They don't speak—"I got laid off down at the lumberyard," sings Bruce Springsteen—and then Hannah says, "I think I got frustrated with her more when we were younger. In the beginning of high school, especially, because that's when Fig would get invited to parties by juniors and seniors. Or I'd hear people talking about something that had happened, like she'd be doing Jell-O shots in the parking lot at the basketball game, and I'd think, wait, my cousin Fig? That Fig?" The fact that Henry seems vaguely annoyed, and that fact that he's Fig's—even if he and Fig are broken up, he's still Fig's, and off-limits to Hannah—are both liberating, and Hannah feels uncharacteristically chatty. It's not like she's trying to appear attractive to him, or to impress him; she can just relax. "Of course, I'm not sure I even wanted to be invited to go to junior and senior parties," she continues. "Probably I wanted to be invited more than I wanted to go. I'm kind of a dork, though."

"Or maybe Jell-O shots aren't your thing," Henry says.

"I've never actually tried one." She wonders if this seems like a confession. If so—ha! Given that she still hasn't even kissed anyone, Jell-O shots are the least of what she's never tried. "But my main point about Fig is that you don't expect her to meet you fifty-fifty," Hannah says. "You sort of appreciate her good qualities and don't take it too personally when she blows you off."



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