If Jane Austen’s heroines can find true love within the confines of their small English villages, why can’t a single New Yorker locate Mr. Right among the residents of her large Upper West Side apartment building?
Suzanne Davis is 34 years old and a technical writer with a boring, albeit undemanding, job and “an apartment the size of a shoebox on West 76th Street in New York City.” Fed up with online dating, she decides to think small and look for “a soul mate in my own backyard.” She pursues this goal like an anthropologist, staking out a spot on the building’s playground to observe the moms and children at play, which leads to an invitation to a book discussion where she is introduced to some potential suitors. Suzanne is a hilarious, self-deprecating, rather unreliable narrator who, like the best Austen heroines, is the last to reach the obvious conclusions about her own love life. After a disastrous affair with one building resident and an almost unbearably meet-cute episode with another, a bout of cancer is just the impetus she needs to reassess her life and her priorities and even mend fences with her difficult and fault-finding mother. This use of cancer as a plot device comes off as a little glib and predictable, though the reader senses Cohen (Jane Austen in Scarsdale, 2006, etc.) is mocking the cliché even as she makes use of it. This Austen-inspired novel is highly self-referential; not only does Suzanne openly acknowledge the Austen connection throughout, one character even makes direct reference to one of Cohen’s earlier novels during a book discussion about Pride and Prejudice. While Cohen keeps her tongue planted firmly in cheek, she sometimes seems to fall back on tropes and lazy shorthand from a slightly earlier era. (Do single Manhattanites still consume Lean Cuisines nightly? Is a “split-level in New Jersey” still shorthand for suburban drudgery?)
Cohen is no Jane Austen, but her latest update on the Marriage Plot is a light romantic comedy featuring witty commentary on contemporary life, enriched by a funny, flawed and likable heroine.