Since The Manny Diaries’ one loyal, regular reader has been on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean for the past two weeks, there’s no one around to make fun of my chick lit habit and peep my Kindle’s contents over my shoulder. So I thought I’d come clean about the two books I gobbled up in said readers’ absence to any other lurkers out there, because I’m actually pretty excited about them. I read The Girls’ Guide To Love and Supper Clubs and Sad Desk Salad back to back over the course of two weeks. They involve food, the internet, and twenty-something urbanite girly stuff, which is to say: a few of my very favorite things. I’ll start with …Supper Clubs.
Dana Bate’s heroine, Hannah Sugarman, is a pro when it comes to whipping up a carrot cake from scratch. But playing the part of proper bougie girlfriend of her boyfriends’ parents’ dreams? Not so much. After her boyfriend dumps her, she moves into a basement apartment and cooks. A lot. The “Spunky Sidekick Friend” (you know, the one that’s in every romcom?) convinces her to open a super secret — and illegal — supper club in the upstairs apartment inhabited by her landlord, without his knowledge. The rest is a cat-and-mouse-game-cum-romance with all sorts madcap mishaps and tantalizing foodie porn along the way.
The good: Dana Bate can surely spin a good yarn (She’s an alumnus of my journalism school, so I’d hope so!) Even during the parts that felt too predictable or conventional, Bate’s Hannah Sugarman is such uniquely pleasant company that you want to keep reading even when you know exactly where the story is going. This is Bate’s debut novel and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next, and to hopefully meet her: she’s a former DC resident and we’ve communicated on Twitter (I refuse to say we’ve “tweeted.” Ew). But still, this makes her awesome in my book. She also seems to understand the worlds she depicts in Supper Club pretty darn well: foodies and young DC professionals. I have a feeling I’d either really enjoy dining out with Dana or gain 10 pounds eating her braised brisket and pretzel bread — if she cooks anything like Hannah Sugarman. Also: I’d be shocked if this hasn’t been optioned for a movie yet; I was casting it in my head the whole time.
The not-so-good: As in most romcom’s and chick lit, it’s pretty easy to sniff out who Hannah’s main man will be by the end of the novel pretty early on, despite Bate’s best efforts to well, bait us in other directions (sorry I’m not sorry for that pun). Other reviews have pointed out the improbability of the book’s ending, but I really think we all need to get over this craving for “plausibility” in storytelling. While some of Bate’s characters are delightfully quirky and well-imagined (Hannah herself, her wonky think tank boss, her landlord who peppers sentences with nautical puns), the stories and themes are well worn ones. The “follow your dream instead of your parents’ dream” trope in particular could have benefitted from a bit more nuance or edge; do the chick-lit publishing Gods allow that?
Cheese-o-meter: Jarlsberg from the Dupont Circle farmer’s market on crackers.
Writerly lessons: Sometimes it’s OK to write a predictable story with an ending that’s smothered in pink cream cheese frosting, if you’ve got delicious characters and a real feel for the worlds they inhabit. Oh, and if you give readers all the recipes featured in the book at the end. Yup, even the Kindle version doubles as a cook book (thanks, Dana!) I’m more inspired to make my own bacon-wrapped dates than ever before.
Sad Desk Salad gets the cheese-o-meter treatment…coming soon!