Ex and the Single Girl

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Friday, May 12, 2006
by Lani Diane Rich #13

Last year I read Lani Diane Rich's first novel,Time Off For Good Behavior. It wasn't my favorite, but I wanted to give her another shot because I felt like it wasn't so much her I wasn't digging, but the main character Wanda. So when I heard she had a new book out (I somehow missed her second novel, Maybe Baby), I hied myself over to the library's website and put Ex and the Single Girl on hold. Short review: I liked it better than her first book, but, it still didn't quite get there for me. I found the main character more likable, the plot more cohesive and thought that the secondary characters seemed a lot more naturally occurring, but there was no ZING. Zing, for me (I imagine it is different for everyone), is a little spark or scrap of something that surprises me and makes me glad I bothered to get beyond the aggressively chick lit cover and into the pages inside. Jennifer Crusie novels generally have zing (although I stopped about 20 pages in on her latest collaboration. Maybe this just isn't my time to be reading romances.)

The bulk of this book is set in a small southern town, but it starts out in upstate New York. Portia's no-good novelist boyfriend dumps her and leaves her with only televised Mr. Darcy to comfort her (just once I think it would be really, I don't know, fresh if one of these heroines had a Batman fixation or something. Mr. Darcy is easy! Batman is effed up!) But as I was saying, she's stuck in upstate New York with TV Mr. Darcy, she can't find her remote control, hasn't combed her hair in a month, and is at risk of some sort of cheese doodle overdose. You get the picture I'm sure, since this is all genre shorthand for "in need of romantic intervention." It's the romance version of Chekhov's gun -- if there is a cheese doodle in the first chapter, the heroine will have had a makeover by the last.

Her eccentric southern family call her home for the family cure: "A Flyer" which a one night fling with a stranger. (see.. they're ECCENTRIC. That's why it's not totally skeevy that her grandmother is fixing up her childhood bedroom for a one night stand with a pre-selected stranger.) The way the dynamic is set up with Portia's mom Mags, her aunt Vera, and grandmother Bev (who are collectively known as the Miz Fallons) reminds me some of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, except they were actually nuts in that book and not just slightly dotty. (this is one of the areas that disappointed me -- it seemed like there was a lot of potential with this family dynamic that never got exploited. Maybe if the book had been longer there would have been room to develop it.) Of course, the pre-selected stranger they picked out turns out to be Mr. Super Awesome, although we never get to know him very well as he and Portia spend relatively little time together.

There were things I liked about this book, but it just sort of missed for me. Like I said above, I may just not be in a romance novel mood these days. But I will read her next novel! I did enjoy this one a lot more than the first, so it seems likely (or at least possible) that I'll like the next one even more. I think she could do a lot with a slightly longer format.
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