The author of Prep (2005) goes a second round, to report on the romantic misadventures of a hapless, often clueless, young woman.
When it comes to love, Hannah Gavener is a late-bloomer. She’s in college before she goes on her first date, and she accepts the advances of the first young man to approach her not because she’s attracted to him but because she’s too surprised to say no. Thus, the slightly too-sensitive Mike is her introduction to the often disappointing, always confounding world of couplehood. Next up is Oliver, a charming Kiwi who is quite incapable of fidelity. And then there’s Henry. After one conversation, Hannah is convinced that Henry is her soulmate. Years pass, and they lose touch, but when they meet up again, Henry talks Hannah into moving to Chicago, where he lives. She soon discovers, though, that Henry failed to mention his girlfriend. Still, she knows that she and Henry are meant to be together, so she settles into a lopsided, torturous non-relationship, one that could have continued interminably if not for the unplanned pregnancy of Henry’s girlfriend. This bit of reality jolts Hannah from her obsession and propels her on a course of self-fulfillment, which she finds not with the man of her dreams but as a teacher at a school for autistic boys. That Hannah’s happy ending is a rewarding job rather than a Prince Charming is a refreshing departure from the romantic resolution offered by most fiction written about and for young women, and it’s to Sittenfeld’s credit that she refrains from giving her heroine a makeover or putting her on a diet. Nevertheless, this novel doesn’t quite satisfy. Sittenfeld seldom delves below the surface of the action, and everything that happens in Chicago is narrated as a letter by Hannah to her therapist. It’s a distilled, distant version of events, almost as if Sittenfeld was loath to dwell on this embarrassing episode in her heroine’s life. As a psychological matter, this is understandable—Hannah really is a world-class sap where Henry is concerned—but, at the formal level, it’s disappointing.
An earnest, if somewhat underdeveloped, antidote to chick-lit.