A romance built on fine wine threatens to go sour in this light novel with a lot of snarky undertones.
Peter, the narrator of the second novel by Blackstone (The Week You Weren’t Here, 2005), is a bright 30-something man with a go-nowhere adjunct gig teaching composition at a Chicago university who spends his spare time with his pug and imagines punny, unworkable concepts for restaurants. Despite this lassitude, he manages to win the love of Isabelle, a local celebrity TV-show host who demystifies wine for the masses. Their love blossoms fast—they tie the knot within weeks—but so does trouble: Peter is increasingly running afoul of his bosses, their new condo loft has high-volume neighbors, and an old flame appears to have insinuated himself back into Izzy’s life. This is all in service of what’s meant to be a comic work of commercial fiction, down to the adorable dog and the make-or-break trip to Greece in the novel’s closing chapters. But the book too often feels contrived on the structural and sentence level: Drowsy scenes of parties and tastings are engineered to work in pairing tips but do little to propel the story; the conflicts among Peter, Izzy and her domineering manager are overdramatized and unrealistic; and Izzy’s character feels flimsy, her up-from-her-bootstraps back story notwithstanding. Those flaws are exacerbated by stretches of clunky prose. (“Breakfast at one thousand six hundred sixty meters was an alluring and jeopardous bounty.”) Blackstone’s attempts to give Peter a kind of emotional reckoning are half-hearted at best (indeed, his sniffy solipsism is often presented as a kind of badge of honor) and essentially abandoned by the end thanks to a forced and disappointing deus ex machina plot turn.
Blackstone is a witty writer with a great subject, but the plot and tone of his story feels unfinished.