The Rolling Stone reporter and memoirist (But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous, 2006) remembers the ’80s in her first novel.
In her 30s, Lillian Curtis is old before her time. Her idea of fun is eating creamed chicken on toast with the septuagenarian talk-show host who is not only her boss but her best friend. She discovers that her husband wants more excitement out of life when she arrives home one night—looking forward to an evening of comfy socks and pizza—and he tells her that their marriage is over. In the midst of a break-up and with nowhere to live in Manhattan, Lillian goes back to her parents’ house in New Jersey. Removed from her adult life and settled into her girlhood room—a shrine to her teen years that hasn’t changed a bit since the late ’80s—Lillian has a chance to be young again. In fact, with her 20-year reunion on the horizon, Lillian not only reconnects with her adolescent girlfriends, she also gets another shot with the mysterious, alluring guy who might have been her one true love. Dunn understands that, to a reader of a certain age, the idea of experiencing John Hughes-style romance one more time is irresistible, and she can be a sharp, funny writer. But it turns out that Lillian was a loser and a jerk in high school—she let boys walk all over her, she threw over her fat friend to be popular—and she becomes a loser and a jerk all over again when she tries to recapture the thrills of youth. By the time Lillian begins to realize this about herself, the reader might be too fed up with her to feel she deserves yet another chance. And the ’80s references wear thin pretty quickly, too.
Even the most nostalgic reader will be sick of all the brand names and band names by the time Dunn manages to combine Tretorns and the Violent Femmes in the same sentence.