Maybe rock-’n’-roll will never die, but the two love-scorned exes in this romantic comedy certainly wish it would.
Philippa graduates from her Cincinnati prep school without a backward glance. She leaves her classmates and her divorced, alcoholic mother for London, where she lives rent-free in her father’s plush apartment. Nightly, she and boyfriend Trevor, lead guitarist for NHS (National Hate Service), troll the pubs and explore the local music scene on her father’s dime. But when Trevor catches Philippa cheating on him, his revenge is swift: He writes a one-hit wonder, “Philippa Cheats,” and the song’s success drives her back home. Meanwhile, Mark, still grieving over the death of his little sister, who was hit by a truck, meets Raquel, whose mother committed suicide. The two share solace and love through their college years until Rock-L, as she refers to herself once she leaves Mark for the California music scene, makes it big with a hit single called “Two Minute Man,” about her ex-boyfriend’s shortcomings. Hailed as a feminist cri de coeur, the song wounds Mark profoundly. Back to Philippa, waitressing in Cincinnati and using cocaine. This leads to years of ill-chosen boyfriends, the last of whom threatens her life if she leaves him, which she promptly does, under an assumed identity and secretly pregnant. Over to Mark, who establishes himself in Boston, where he spends his days teaching first-graders, and long nights wondering if he’ll ever have sex again. Told in alternating chapters, the novel tracks the two break-up victims as they assuage their public humiliation and learn to love again. Halpin (Donorboy, 2004, etc.) writes sweetly about young men and women trying to carve out a decent life in contemporary times, but this novel leans too heavily on summary to cover the 20 years it takes to bring the two unwitting muses together.
A lukewarm affair.