Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Randy Ross

A comic performer, still single in his 50s, begins a new relationship that challenges his need for space in Ross’ novel.

Randall Burns seems destined to die alone: He’s 56 years old, has never been married, and performs a one-man show entitled “The Chronic Single’s Handbook.” He frequents dodgy massage parlors to pay for sex and has erotic dreams about his stepsister, Harriet. He’s not exactly the most eligible bachelor—he once had a lucrative job as an editor for a magazine, but now he’s trying to make it as a “professional storyteller,” a career unlikely to ensure financial security anytime soon. Still, sparks fly when he meets Jackie Chin-Rosenthal, a Chinese woman raised by a Jewish stepfather. However, she’s not looking for anything romantically causal—she’s been married three times and is unreservedly looking for a fourth try. Randall wonders if he has finally met a woman he can commit to in terms that are lightsome but not terribly funny, much like the novel as a whole (“Could Jackie be the woman I’ve been waiting for? Someone who will think about me, miss me, and pick me up after a colonoscopy? Someone who is always there for me?”). In this largely formulaic comedy, Randall’s “wishy-washy waffling bullshit” wears on the reader as much as its tires Jackie. (“I hate her! I love her!…I don’t know how I feel!”) There is hardly a paragraph in the text without a witticism of some kind being attempted, and some of them are genuinely clever (the comedic hero of the novel is Jackie, who delivers more memorable one-liners than any other character). However, there is nothing fresh here—a novel about an emotionally stunted artist unable to make his peace with monogamy feels like the rehash of a hoary pop-cultural trope. This stale familiarity grows increasingly difficult to endure—despite flashes of comedic vitality, one can’t help but wish this was a short story rather than a full-length novel.

A lack of originality torpedoes this fitfully funny romantic comedy.