Summertime ‘chick lit’ with a message
Joel Stonington, the reporter who coordinates these book reviews for the Aspen Times Weekly, crosses the newsroom an average of once every two months with a book in his hands for me to read and review – books I regularly refer to as “Chick Lit.”You know the story – single girl lives alone, has a wide number of friends but can’t seem to find the right guy. Female readers empathize with such characters, who by the end of the book usually find their inner strength, not to mention a terrific guy who wants to get married and have babies.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.Truth is, a throwaway piece of Chick Lit can be fun summer reading, so when Joel crossed the room with Katherine Taylor’s “Rules for Saying Goodbye,” I didn’t roll my eyes at him (at least, not in front of him), and I agreed to read it. Taylor’s main character is also named Katherine Taylor (the author has said the fictional Katherine is 20 or 30 percent based on her own life) and, when we meet her, her parents are sending her off to and East Coast boarding school to escape her hometown of Fresno, Calif. We follow Katherine through boarding school and then college, and the meat of the novel is her life as a young adult in New York City, clinging to a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and tending bars around town.Indeed, she is the sort of single girl who can’t seem to find the right guy – but does she want to? Her cast of friends wanders in and out of this book, sharing copious cocktails, cigarettes and nights (and afternoons) out on the town. She’s likable enough – the title of the book comes from a list that makes up Chapter 14, and shows how witty she can be. It includes pointers like not leaving until a man has mentioned two ex-girlfriends in casual conversation, or writing a simple goodbye note on very nice paper, like “Dear Henry, I have loved you completely.” “Be too hurt to sign your name,” she says.The fictional Katherine Taylor’s family is typically dysfunctional – her mother is routinely depressed, her father is in denial about it, and one of her brothers is some sort of social delinquent. Her other brother, Ethan, is one of the most likable characters in the book, a handsome gay actor who lives with her in New York before moving to L.A., where he becomes “the face of Diet Coke.” Unfortunately, I thought the path of the book was much like the path of this character’s life – it wanders aimlessly from her girls’ clique in boarding school to the cousin she pals around with in college, to her friends and co-workers in Manhattan. Is she finding herself during the course of all this? Not really, but that’s a lot like life, isn’t it?
In fact, it’s not until the book’s last pages when Katherine seems to realize something about herself that readers may have suspected all along – life doesn’t go as planned, and doesn’t need to be wrapped up with a neat little bow. I don’t think many of us really need to hear that message, but there’s a reason it’s called summer reading. Call it summer reading with a message.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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