You’ve got to love Curtis Sittenfeld. I do. The author who became famous as a result of her breakout novel, PREP, a skewering of all the legends of the ultra-exclusive girls school, is back with ROMANTIC COMEDY, which was that rare book I thought about whenever I wasn’t reading it and couldn’t wait to get back to. I would make myself finish other necessary tasks first, as if daily life was a dinner of leftovers but this novel was the dessert. Sittenfeld’s observational eye is a laser – but her heart is a daffodil. Starting with a story that is already inherently droll — in this case, what happens when a veteran (read this “too old for this nonsense”) comedy writer for a show based on ‘Saturday Night Live’ has a secret crush on a superstar guest — she pushes that narrative up the flagpole with the bullseye portrayals of pop culture that are her trademark and an unexpected twist.
Sally is a jaded seen-it-all cynic who has recused herself from love but musters a sweet supportiveness when her best writer-pal, Danny Horst, joins the club of ordinary guys “dating up” by winning the heart of perfect-10 starlet, Annabel. Meanwhile, iconic pop star Noah becomes the week’s musical guest. Expecting a vain and shallow-aging heartthrob, Sally instead meets a guy who’s genuinely trying to understand women — to be a better man — and they hit it off. Sparks almost fly .. but COVID intervenes. Two years later, during “lockdown,” a curious email correspondence leads to one of the bitter-sweetest, funniest modern love stories that I think anyone has ever written.
Sittenfield knows the landscape of human love and insecurity better than anybody, and ROMANTIC COMEDY is downright bracing in its bold portrayal of customary cynicism denied.
(Right here, right now, the “Danny Horst” effect officially becomes part of the language and, if you’re like me, you were wondering when that particular phenomenon – of the ordinary guy who gets the gorgeous woman, and why that river flows only one way – would get its own social DSM.)
There’s nothing more hopeful than finding a new book that doesn’t let you down. – JM