Debut fiction from memoirist Holm (The Toaster Broke So We’re Getting Married, 2002) charts a year in the lives of a group of San Franciscans struggling to find love, maintain love, get over lost love.
After two miscarriages, Macie and her husband, Harlan, now have mechanical sex timed to the results of her ovulation tests. “The firecracker he’d married, with the scathing wit and the survivalist’s demeanor, seemed to be disappearing in front of him,” Harlan thinks. Ergo, the formula goes, he’s a sitting duck for a sluttily dressed “birdcage dancer” named Sophia, who brings him home to her mirrored apartment in a converted firehouse and brings lust back into his life. Before long, Harlan has ’fessed up to Macie, moved out and found his own place. His landlady, Dawn, is a single mom who has recently split up with a long-time partner and moved into a house on a hill with her nine-year-old daughter, Jewel. Harlan tries to write a screenplay. Macie continues her quest to become a mother by trying artificial insemination. Sophia takes a string of ridiculous gigs, like standing on street corners in Vegas-style costumes to be picked up by busloads of Japanese tourists. Dawn transforms her talent for drawing bugs into a paying job in pest control and tries to keep up with Jewel, a delightful, vividly drawn character who walks away with most of the story. Harlan helps Dawn and Jewel transform the messy backyard into a garden with exotic plants. Dawn’s ex gets engaged, reviving her own ambiguity about the state of marriage (Jewel is the result of a drunken one-night stand with a man who was in costume at the time). Then Macie becomes pregnant, and—guess what?—Harlan begins to find Sophia not so seductive after all.
Awfully trite, but distinguished by delicious, sharply observed scenes of San Francisco’s various neighborhoods and inimitable seasons.