Book Review Friday!

The Big Love
Sarah Dunn
Little, Brown and Co. 2004.  256 pages. $14 (Paperback)

This is one of my favorite books even though it looks nothing like what my favorite books usually look like.  After Alison Hopkins is dumped by her boyfriend, she embarks on many romantic adventures in order to find her “Big Love.”  The plot could be any romantic comedy.

But in Dunn’s hands, the sappy plot comes alive.  The break-up scene – Alison’s boyfriend leaves after she sends him to pick up mustard during a dinner party – ranks as one of the funniest moments in chick-lit comedy ever.  And the giggles keep coming.  I reread this book in the breakroom of Foley’s one summer, and received more than one glaring look from my coworkers after a burst of laughter.

Just one example: “When I woke up on Monday morning, I found myself staring up at the pattern on the pressed-tin ceiling over the bed, wondering what would become of me.  And I mean this in the full Jane Austen sense of the term.  What on earth would become of me?”  (35).  If this passage doesn’t have you reeling back through centuries of women’s literature, I don’t know what will.  Visions of Emma, Jane Eyre, My Fair Lady, and Clueless dance through my head.  This is where Dunn’s strength lies, I believe: she is aware of the lineage of her book and exploits it to full comedic effect.  Not only can you relate to Alison’s plight, but somehow her witty reflections on life underscore the fact that life is just a game whose rules are enforced by every other chick-lit book. 

Dunn holds a mirror up to women’s literature and let’s it reflect back on itself.  Alison’s ideas about love have been reinforced by too many romantic comedies and as a result, she lives her life as if she herself is in one of her fantasies.  Which, of course, she is, as the character in a novel.  At the same time, Dunn makes her so believable that the novel reads as if it were a phone transcript from one of our friends – we’re not only nodding and sympathizing but also laughing out loud at her foibles.

Dunn’s novel is bitingly refreshing.  Hysterical.  Funny.  I’m running out of adjectives.  Read it.  It’s short enough to finish in a weekend, and you will leave it with a renewed sense of hope – even if your football team loses this weekend.