A first novel details a string of unfortunate dates and a vibrant attempt at romance.
Robyn Engel wishes she had a love life. She comes from a lively Jewish family, including her sister, her loving mother, and her gruff father. But ever since childhood, she’s had bad luck with dating. She takes readers through her first several crushes, from misinterpreted flirtations to prom rejections (an Author’s Note calls this “memoir-ish” novel “creative non-fiction”). College brings a whole new dating landscape, but the sudden loss of her mother to cancer clouds her freedom. Ever persistent, Robyn graduates with honors and escapes to graduate school, where she continues to date to no avail. There are men who talk too much about themselves, men who won’t take no for an answer, men who loudly suffer indigestion. Eventually she meets Justin Case, a nice Jewish guy whom her friends bring along on a camping trip. Their dates quickly become the relationship she’s always wanted, followed by cohabitation (even as she’s keenly aware that she’s paying most of their bills) and marriage. But even this relationship deteriorates, and Robyn finds herself taking a risk: she moves to a new town, following the promise of a writing job. It’s this final journey that shows her triumph, whether or not she meets the man of her dreams. The author (Just the Right Time, 2012) weaves diary entries as well as clips from her popular blog into the narrative, which gives it authenticity. Humor and sarcasm buoy the conversational tone. The bulk of this novel is presented as a list of her many suitors, which creates a lot of different names and characters to follow. There are some choppy transitions, jumping from high school to a high school reunion, or from Jamaica to her local gym. The volume’s best parts—her family, faith, and marriage—would have made a compelling story, without the many depressing dating case studies. Engel finds her groove when she sticks with just one tale, creating appealing dialogue and building tension. While she aims for a conclusion of contentment, a final litany of dating stories nearly eclipses the positive message.
A dating adventure that packs plenty of humor but not enough focus.