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Reasons To Be Cheerful (2019)Author: Nina Stibbe
Credit: Little, Brown and Company

Reasons to Be Cheerful

If Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag were a bored teenager in the British Midlands circa 1980 instead of the wayward owner of a contemporary London guinea-pig café, she might be a lot like Lizzie Vogel.

A dentist’s assistant more by accident than design — previous stints at a senior home and a garden center didn’t work out, and the options in Leicester are slim — Lizzie knows a good cover letter can make up for a multitude of sins, or at least a complete lack of applicable skills. (Though pulling that off brings its own risks: “If you’ve written of your ability to do a headstand on a trotting horse, then you must be able to demonstrate if called upon to do so. Ditto, if you claim to possess ‘a wide-ranging knowledge of all things dental.’”)

She’s pleased, at least, to have the gratis apartment that comes with the job — even if her new boss turns out to be a casual xenophobe in too-tight scrubs who’s already sleeping with his office manager, Tammy, and regularly commandeers Lizzie’s personal toilet to offload his morning “urge.”

Soon enough, Lizzie has a crush on the cute, bookish boy who delivers lab samples, a growing knack for DIY dentistry, and a reluctant new friend named Priti. There’s also her distracted absentee dad, a mother who writes erotic sci-fi for kicks, and an older sister, Melody, whose “main aim in life was to have sex without it making her sad or pregnant.”

Stibbe (Man at the Helm) is a pitch-perfect observer: clever, confiding, sublimely weird; and there’s unexpected resonance, too, in the story’s final, bittersweet pages. Her Reasons might not have much reason, but it has a lot of heart. B+


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