The Man of My Dreams
On the ride home from Los Angeles last Sunday, Abby and I listened to The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld. (I get free audiobooks from work and it was the best one I saw, having read Sittenfeld’s Prep about a year ago.)
We both felt similarly about it – it was good, but not great. The CD is read by Anne Heche, who needs to pay the photographer who took her cover photo a LOT of money. (Seriously, look at that photo. Abby said the same thing about it, and Heche is a woman who I normally find pinchy, crazy and not very hot.) The Man of My Dreams traces the life of Hannah Gavener, a young, awkward girl who struggles to find happiness with the other sex. Mostly, she is awkward and intelligent, and in that way, not much different than the protagonist of Prep. Indeed, another similarity is that too often, Hannah comes across as altogether unpleasant. It’s not without reason – her parents get an ugly divorce we learn about almost immediately; her cousin Fig and sister Allison are both beauties, and Fig is particularly awful in her shallowness. But Hannah is both awkward and incredibly rude at times – and then, at a glance, very sassy in her conversation. In some ways, this makes her more real as a character, but also harder to pin down.
I suppose this would be the place to say that this book isn't - as I understand it -- "Chick Lit." In fact, Sittenfeld snarks at that genre within this book, and it's certainly more like Melissa Bank (who I've enjoyed in the past) than Candace Bushnell. (Or, at least, this didn't feel like a book anyone would be reading on that idiotic show.)
Heche’s narration isalso very uneven, most notably when talking as Oliver, a boyfriend of Hannah’s from New Zealand. (Seriously – her attempt at a Kiwi was so bad as to be offensive.) She also mumbles a LOT when talking as Hannah, which made me think she was more of a miscreant than it turns out she was. In contrast, when talking as Fig, the beautiful and shallow cousin, Heche was great - to the point that Fig shined WAY more as a character than Hannah. Whether that is Heche's fault or Sittenfeld's, it's not a good thing.
From a story perspective, I applaud Sittenfeld for not taking the easy way out – a less talented writer would have had Hannah be raped by the tattooed stranger she meets early in the novel, or have an awkward sexual encounter with her sister’s fiancée’s brother in an Alaskan tent – but avoiding these layups so repeatedly makes one wonder what the point of the story was in the first place.
No more is this more obvious than the last “act” of the story, which takes place in Chicago. At the risk of spoiling the story, Hannah decides to follow the titular character out to Chicago, in hopes that it will spark a romance. For someone as bottled up and lost in her own head, it’s a bold move that is what it seems – the act of someone finally taking control of her life. But the importance of this wasn’t really driven home for me, and the way it’s explained – by a letter to her therapist – feels tired and clunky, and way beneath the talents of a writer like Sittenfeld.
It was an entertaining story, especially given how little ever occurs – but I’m glad we listened to it, instead of reading along, wondering when something – anything – is actually going to happen. It’s certainly not a bad story, but disappointingly mediocre.