One rainy night in Brooklyn, a youngish woman asks her live-in boyfriend to fetch a pregnancy test from the drugstore. Some banter ensues. Are we in for a comic novel with serious overtones, or a serious novel with a comic edge?
Actually, neither one, and that’s the problem. Boyfriend Miller dutifully trots off to the drugstore, but we don’t find out until the end whether Lisa is pregnant; in the interim, we meander through Miller’s life, as boy and man (someone should send the author to the plot store), in a tone that’s fitfully comic. Grodstein likes drawing up fun lists as much as Letterman, though hers are shorter. (Sample: in Miller’s life, “Some Close Calls So Far.”) Yet there’s nothing that funny about his parents’ divorce when Miller is 14. His father, Stan, is a pharmaceuticals salesman and takes long business trips that send his wife, Bay, into fits of weeping. They divorce, and Miller chooses to stay with his mother, who continues to mope while Miller wets his bed. All this is more pathetic than funny. The big event in Miller’s life comes when he meets Blair Carter. By now he’s in his mid-20s, living in Queens, working for a dot-com. Blair is cute as a button and lives with her father on Park Avenue; she also works for him but, curiously, none of her friends have met him. Miller falls for Blair big-time. Why she would fall for this chain-smoking slob is as mysterious as her father’s whereabouts, and she does eventually dump him (“you loved me too much”). Not to worry. Soon Lisa will pick him up on line in a Krispy Kreme and make room for him in her Brooklyn place, though Miller realizes (back to the beginning) that he doesn’t love her enough to bring up a baby with her.
Grodstein’s collection (The Best of Animals, 2002) showed she had yet to find her voice, something still the case with her first novel.