Whitney Pastorek
May 17, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Man of My Dreams

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Curtis Sittenfeld
publisher
Random House
genre
Fiction
We gave it a C+

Under the vast, pink-tinted umbrella of chick lit, it’s hard to think of a more talented, frustrating writer than Curtis Sittenfeld. Her 2005 debut, Prep, won raves for its stark portrait of adolescence and class issues at a Boston boarding school. But in order to enjoy it you had to ignore the fact that the narrator, Lee, was at best an awkward grump and at worst a borderline sociopath whose interactions with others became increasingly intolerable, spiraling into an exile of her own creation.

For her second novel, Sittenfeld continues to wallow in the angsty girl muck: Protagonist Hannah Gavener is an awkward grump who occasionally borders on the sociopathic. Like the boys of Prep, the men of Dreams exist as archetypes — sensitive, thoughtless, or unattainable; girls (other than Hannah, naturally) tend to be beautiful, confident, and a little bit slutty. The ending is rushed and unsatisfying, despite some obvious, cloying attempts to make it otherwise. As we follow Hannah from her early teens through college and into adulthood, it becomes clear that her personal problems are at least as epic as Lee’s and, if anything, less forgivable the older she grows. It’s hard to say what compels Sittenfeld to write books about chicks you kinda want to throttle. A writer this articulate could stand to exorcise these ghosts as quickly as possible, and spend her considerable gifts telling stories of people — fully formed, complex, perhaps even welcoming people — who deserve our attention.

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