In this debut novel, a writer attempts to find the perfect girl by first “creating” her on paper, but is he looking for love or just some woman to force into his precast mold?
Lamenting over dinner about his inability to find his soul mate, Jonathan Bach is challenged by his famous author father and know-it-all brother to use his skills as a burgeoning novelist to invent the woman of his dreams, an act of self-actualization that might aid him in finding love. The chronically lonely Jonathan creates “Melissa” from a strict list of wants, covering her looks, personality, upbringing, social habits, even what color car she drives, and begins exchanging letters with her, writing responses from his imaginary girl. Four years later, enter Lisa, new to Seattle from Idaho, living with her social butterfly of a cousin Cathy and working at the pool hall that Jonathan frequents to flirt badly and spill Shirley Temples on himself. He is far from her type, a messy, socially awkward klutz stumbling through writing a hackneyed memoir about growing up the son of the 1970s literary superstar Richard Bach, yet they still develop a rapport. Jonathan is smitten, but though much about her parallels his Melissa, he secretly chafes each time she doesn’t quite measure up. Corbit’s novel is set firmly in the early ’90s, with references to the specter of AIDS, the Nancy Kerrigan–Tonya Harding scandal, Sade, and other cultural touchstones of the period. The tale’s main conceit of its male protagonist inventing a love interest and then attempting to find a woman to fit this rigid model is as creepy as it sounds. The result is somewhat akin to watching a horror movie—red flags appear regularly, and when Jonathan comes clean to Lisa about Melissa, the fact that she doesn’t flee will likely have many readers squirming. But his manipulations are subtle, wrapped up in Lisa discovering the city through him and enjoying clever conversations about Hemingway, charming moments even with the unsettling context. The book’s slow pacing for a quick romance is a little odd, mostly foreshadowing the ending. But this postmodernist Pygmalion is an apt metaphor for the fantasies and expectations that break down so many relationships.
An uncomfortable romance that makes lovers’ worst decisions believable.