Pitiable young man seeking woman—any woman.
The whining narrator and male Bridget Jones stand-in here (he even has a slight weight problem) is Tom Farrell, in his early 30s, a guy who spends most of his time rewriting copy at Tabloid, a disreputable in-your-face paper that’s an obvious New York Post stand-in. Off-hours, Tom watches TV in his Upper West Side bachelor pad or moons after Julia, the lovely, flakey, much-younger copy girl who keeps giving him just enough rope to embarrass himself with. Things start off promisingly, as author Smith (who, as book review editor at People, has read enough relationship fiction to do this kind of thing blindfolded) has a smart way with Tom’s roiling inner monologue—enough to keep a reader engaged even when nothing in particular is going on. The monologues are nothing a smarter-than-average Maxim reader wouldn’t come up with (on the coolness of Bugs Bunny, why it’s too much work to shop anywhere but Banana Republic, the myriad ways women are insane), but they’re entertaining nevertheless and dashed with a pleasing amount of malice. Smith is even sharp enough to deflect High Fidelity comparisons by referring to that book on page five. Unfortunately, though, the reader has to get dragged through Tom’s increasingly depressing nonrelationship with Julia—and all the other women he tries to hook up with; this isn’t bad in itself, but the longer you know Tom, the quicker you realize that he’s not just a schlubby loser with a sardonic take on life: he’s an arrogant bastard with bitter contempt for anyone who lives life differently from the way he does. For a novel with higher pretensions, such a character might not present a problem, but for a book apparently aiming to be just a light, sassy Hornby/Fielding knockoff, it’s a fatal flaw to have this narrow-minded wank at its center.
Funny material corrupted by a protagonist who grows less funny the longer you know him.