Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy
by Curtis Sittenfeld
320 page 
Published April 2023 by Random House Publishing Group 

Publisher's Summary: 
Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life. 

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. 

Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called the Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman. Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right? 

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.

My Thoughts: 
You may recall me saying, on more than one occasion, that a book every seems to like just did not seem to work for me. Here we have the opposite case. So many people on Goodreads really did not like this book at all. But me? For me, this was the right book at the right time. Summer light, but not too light, not too mindless.

The Night Owls is clearly Saturday Night Live (Sittenfeld says as much in the Acknowledgements) and I loved see behind the curtain (and I'm assuming, given the number of resources Ms. Sittenfeld lists, that it's fairly accurate). Clearly the recent spate of SNL cast members dating or marrying major stars has inspired Ms. Sittendfeld to ponder the question "why doesn't it seem to work the other way?" To be fair, have you ever seen one of the female cast members dating some knockout major celebrity? You and I both know where this is going to go, right? 

One of the strikes against this book is that it breaks no new ground. There's a meet cute. You know immediately that the Danny Horst Rule is going to be broken. But here's the thing - I expect that from a book called Romantic Comedy. More than once Sally and Noah discuss how thin the line is between cheesiness and romance. That's the same fine line Sittenfeld travels in this book and the same line she wants readers to ponder. At one point Noah says that the answer lies in whether or not you're involved in it. What made this not cheesy for me was that, although Sally was very insecure about her looks and she's had a terrible history with love, she is not ditzy, nor clumsy, nor involved in a relationship with another man that falls apart when she realizes how she really feels about Noah. None of those things we so often see in romantic comedies. Sally is smart and makes a great living without any help from any man. And how will a man win her over? Not by the grand gesture (although Sally is happy to admit that she just might be impressed by that), but by the ability of a man to show that he's a caring, real human being. I liked that. 

Plus, there's a middle section that's entirely emails between Sally and Noah. Some of those reviewers hated that part (and it may well not have been great on audio), but I loved it. Give me a good epistolary novel any day of the week. 

In all honesty, the first part of the book was better, in my opinion, and I did get tired of hearing how ordinary Sally was. But I forgave Sittenfeld for those things because there was more than enough to have me racing through this book. Right book. Right time. 

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