Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book surprised me. I have a ton to say about it, so here goes.

First of all, the chick lit thing. What this book initially reminded me of was, well, Melissa Bank. The author of the book that Sittenfeld kind of blasted in a New York Times review. The book follows its main character, Hannah, from teenager to late twenties, in a series of stories. A lot like both of Bank's books. And the subject matter isn't that different. Hannah's trying to figure out her relationships, with her family, with men. The similarities kind of end there, but honestly, if Sittenfeld wants to call the Wonder Spot chick lit, then this is too.

Speaking of the Wonder Spot, what I didn't like about that book was that I couldn't relate to Sophie. In this case, it's the opposite. I relate almost a little too much to Hannah. She's an unusual main character, because she's kind of not all that likable. She's somewhat antisocial, she doesn't do things that are "normal" for her age, she makes tons of observations and judgments but only rarely experiences anything and almost feels like she's not supposed to. There were just so many parts of the book where I was like, damn, THIS IS ME. Like how she made all these seemingly trivial decisions when she started college like not joining clubs but that all added up to not having friends. How she's almost always an outsider, but instead of having other outsider friends, she has selected friends "on the inside" that just make her feel like she's even more of an outsider. I could keep going but really, it was almost a little scary and honestly, a little disturbing. Reading this book was one of the strangest things ever, instead of losing myself in it like some great books I've read, I became more and more aware of myself.

Okay, let's stop talking about me now. The book itself is very well written, and I really like Sittenfeld's "voice." I liked the supporting characters, who are aren't just stereotypes. Allison, Hannah's older sister, could easily have be the irritatingly perfect older sister, but the problem is that she's just really genuinely nice. Her cousin, Fig, is kind wild and crazy, but she doesn't get tired of Hannah's oddities. Her parents' divorce starts off the book, and her complex relationship with her father pops up every now, and it's compelling without being overdramatic. Actually nothing in this book is terribly dramatic, especially not the ending, which, if you consider the title of the book, is not very happy.

Final verdict? Even though Hannah is the most I've related to a character, probably EVER, and it's very well written, the book as a whole was strangely not that satisfying. Maybe it's because Prep was so effective, that we were kind of expecting something more? Not much really happens, and I don't know that Hannah has really changed all that much by the end. I didn't like her first person narration in the last story (in a letter, the rest of the book is in third person) and I don't know, I related to Hannah, but I didn't sympathize with her. And that kind of made for a slightly uncomfortable reading experience. I'd definitely recommend it but overall I'd say that it wasn't quite as good as Prep.

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