Monday, June 4, 2007

The Man of My Dreams

I picked up Curtis Sittenfeld's The Man of My Dreams in the Atlanta airport on my latest trip into the wide, wide world. I was actually drawn in by the paperback's cover, which so captured that moment in the Great Gatsby when Daisy weeps into Jay's beautiful shirts that I was overcome and purchased immediately . . .

And, then I looked inside. I hesitate to call the book a novel because it strikes me as a succession of character moments in the protagonist's life. They are connected more by the thread of her existence than by any real plot or momentum. Now, this may be the point, as Hannah herself seems stuck as the emotionally remote, psychologically scarred child, but if this is the case, it makes better structural theory than structure. Nothing makes this clearer than the end, which is basically a stopping point rather than anything that suggests the book had an arc.

To wit: at the end, there's this kind of Lifetime movie letter to the now-we-see-her, now-we-don't therapist who's been in and out of the book rather randomly. The letter is a sadly overdetermined, "I'm over him, I swear" creation that in real life would be about 30 typed pages--which immediately pushes it into the realm of seriously and/or cry for help. In effect, the letter acts as the "Angels talk to Charlie" end to this episode and wraps up the novel just about as well. This is especially true because the letter seems to harken back to the undergrad Hannah, not to the slightly more adult Hannah seen just a few pages earlier. But, we never learn why she regressed or if she had never progressed or why we're still supposed to be reading.

Having said all this, Hannah is interesting largely because she's all inner life separated from any expressed emotion or engagement. But, this kind of character is more short story interesting than novel interesting. And, few of the other characters sustain interest at all: Fig is a tiresome and stereotypical queen bee; Michael is a passive loser; Allison seems brought on stage left for dramatic tension and then forgotten just as quickly when the need for her plot point vanishes; Elizabeth and Darach could be intriguing but they disappear. We never see enough of Hannah's mom or dad to get what exactly is going on, etc. If they were all drawn more fully, we might care, but they aren't.

Beautiful cover, though.

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