Friday, May 29, 2009

24. The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

I needed a book. Badly. I roamed the Harvard Coop savagely, lusting at recent release tables, pawing at established classics. My eyes rested on a familiar name: Curtis Sittenfeld. I read Prep a few years ago, around a turning point in my life. She helped me wrestle with my inner Lee Fiora, though, truly, I have never been as naturally cruel as that painfully realistic character, no matter how shy or self-conscious. I somehow felt that The Man of My Dreams would be easier to read, and at least I knew it would draw me in. I needed something to give my undivided attention to.

The book is about that need to give, in the main character Hannah's case, love. To a man, specifically. That said, I don't know how terribly appropriate the title is. Prep wasn't adroitly titled either though. Hannah is familiar, another Lee, but in different circumstances. The book shows Hannah's life in flashes, skipping from eighth grade to college to young adulthood. It is far less intense than its predecessor.

As always, Sittenfeld's social observations are spot-on, though they don't feel as edgy anymore. The reader is firmly ensconced in Hannah's head, and I find it hard to believe any middle-class, white female hasn't experienced most of what she does. Alongside her, however, Hannah's sister Allison and cousin Fig seem to be doing just fine, which enhances her isolation. Fig in particular seemed unrealistically written to me. She is the popular, crazy girl that all the guys fall for, but her actions and words don't seem consistent. She's always ordering Hannah around, using her, and suddenly gives her sound and priceless advice. It's unexpected because it's so contrived.

The ending is disappointing, but typical. How else can you end a real novel about a woman struggling with low self-esteem? In a romance, she could catch the guy of her dreams at last, but Sittenfeld, I feel sure, despises that as much as I do. So, it trails off, perhaps on a hopeful note, but it doesn't really matter. If it ended with her death, it would have been preferable to me, but perhaps that's asking far too much labor of the author.

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