I still remember the thrill of darting across Old Route 17 in Masten Lake, NY, where my family spent a week every summer, and going into the little rundown store. I’d slide a magazine from the rack, fish the money out of my shorts pocket, and run back across 17 to my room, breathless. There, in the quiet of the afternoon, I had True Confessions all to myself. Talk about guilty pleasures! Every dark, garishly illustrated tale featured teens running away from home, teens hitching along deserted highways, abducted teens, teens somehow turning up pregnant, teens falling in love with their dark brutish hairy captors. Bobby Darin sang Dream Lover on the little red transistor radio perched next to me. For this 13 year old in 1960, this was as close as I could get to (soft porn) heaven.
Turn the time machine dial to 2012. Somehow, reading The Singles brings this scene back to me as I stop to wonder why people (ok, women) want to read books like this. Could it be as addictive as those tales were? Sure, it’s not taxing, it goes down easy; it’s the kind of thing women bring to the beach or on vacation. It’s reasonably well written with characters who come equipped with lots of backstory (disclosure: I can never get enough!), characters who confront decisions that Gen X and Y’s can relate to (choice of careers, lovers, spouses, carving out identities separate from their parents, and so on). But it’s certainly not sexy or titillating the way True Confessions stories were and it’s certainly not falling into the literary fiction category. And why don’t I care what happens to these guys?
Well, for one thing, everyone is white, upper middle class, city folk come to town to reunite for the wedding of a college friend. (Calling Hallmark movie of the week!). The roster reads like this:
Women: Bee, a lawyer marrying another lawyer; Vicki, interior designer manqué, depressive over love life and career; Dawn, control freak beauty pageant organizer; Hannah, our protagonist, fledgling casting director, pining for ex-boyfriend, too blind to see true love is within her reach.
Men: Phil, mama’s boy; Joe, underachiever; Jimmy, brainless stud muffin; Rob, a bit too passive about declaring his passion. There’s lots of drink and a little sex, or rather, soulless hooking up. Did I mention that everyone is extremely beautiful and talented? – There’s not one Plain Jane or average person in the bunch. And in case we are challenged in the imagination department, the author tells us which Hollywood star should play each of her characters.
The action revolves around Hannah surviving the wedding. Her ex-boyfriend is there with his new girlfriend. She hasn’t seen him in 2 1/2 years. That’s it. The whole enchilada. Nothing notable really happens (unless you count a little drunken sex).
Another disclosure: Sex in the City was never my cup of tea either though I loved Bridesmaids. This is like Bridesmaids without any of the humor, Bridesmaids Lite. The author references VC Andrews several times and, as I said, I understand a teenager being infatuated with those scenarios (i.e., incest in the attic), but grownups?
So, here’s my shout-out to Meredith Goldstein, the author. You can write and create believable characters that we care about. Trust yourself to put them in situations that really test their mettle. I know you have interesting things to observe about college friendships and romances and how things change in the years that follow:
“Back in college, when they were all single, healthy, attractive people with no commitments, everyone talked to each other like this – intensely and full of confidence and hope. They laughed uncontrollably and never got bored of each other . . . even though they coupled off by twenty . . . it always felt as though the twosomes were just part of a greater whole. Like it was one just one big romance, no matter who shared the same bed when they all went to sleep” (p.182).
Time, Meredith, to tackle some tougher material. I know you have it in you. Really.
Readers, if you think you’d enjoy a chick-lit Hangover, no need to be furtively poking around little rundown stores on Old Route 17 – just pick up this book and be there when Hannah finally figures out where her dream lover is hiding!
Every night I hope and pray
A dream lover will come my way
A girl to hold in my arms
And know the magic of her charms
'cause I want (yeah-yeah yeah)
A girl (yeah-yeah yeah)
To call (yeah-yeah yeah)
My own (yeah-yeah)
I want a dream lover so I don't have to dream alone
~ Bobby Darin~