MISS HARPER CAN DO IT by Jane Berentson


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A lackluster debut chronicling a year in the life of a Tacoma schoolteacher whose boyfriend is stationed in Iraq.

The book is presented as the rough draft of a memoir—each chapter begins with a new working title. Annie Harper, 24, sees her writing project as a means of reflecting on the emotional difficulties experienced by women left alone during wartime. The initial seriousness soon falls away as Annie continues with life as usual—teaching third grade, hanging out with Gus, her best friend since childhood, recently returned from the Peace Corps. David, meanwhile, phones and e-mails from Iraq when he can. The tone of the novel, which attempts comedy but is more often satisfied with a kind of youthful flippancy, does nothing to convince the reader that Annie’s feelings for David were ever deep enough to warrant a memoir. Along the way, Annie volunteers at a retirement home and is assigned Loretta Schumacher as a conversation partner. Loretta, 93, is feisty and wise (aren’t they always) and helps Annie by offering her own reminiscences of being alone while her husband was overseas during World War II. On Loretta’s advice, Annie buys a chicken, and she revels in her new role as pet owner/mini farmer. With David away, Annie spends more time with Gus. Gus is brilliant (a Yale degree in philosophy), artistic (he has temporary work as a decorative painter) and just quirky enough to be interesting without being weird. And as Gus is straight, it’s fairly obvious where the plot is headed. Though a bit predictable, the novel’s real weakness is its sophomoric fascination with the mundane, the footnotes and appendixes that attempt a wry coolness but are instead hopelessly bland.

Conveys all of the tedium of ordinary life, but without any of the insight.

Pub Date: May 4th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-670-02077-5
Page count: 326pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2009