The Man of My Dreams: A Novel
by Curtis Sittenfeld
"A Man of Her Own Who Isn't Hers"
A review by Elizabeth Judd
Sittenfeld, whose best seller Prep
was an audaciously conventional story of adolescent angst, has produced another
striking coming-of-age tale featuring a misfit with an unsettlingly intense personality.
This novel spans fourteen years, during which Hannah Gavener nurses a smoldering
resentment toward her mercurial father, struggles with chubbiness (her mother
makes "overly enthusiastic comments about, for instance, celery"), and
pursues her birthright, a boyfriend with whom she can share an "exclusionary
glow." In this sustained exercise in psychic discomfort, Sittenfeld dissects
fleeting sentiments that don't stand up to scrutiny. Thus at college, the
morbidly lonely Hannah refuses casual invitations because improv or a cappella
groups are "kind of stupid," and later regrets her prickliness.
Sittenfeld's latest novel lacks Prep's zip and verve. Without
the claustrophobic microcosm of boarding school -- the cliques, insider customs,
and subterranean class issues -- the far baggier Man of My Dreams drifts episodically
along, propelled only by Hannah's sullen musings. Fortunately, the meandering
is often redeemed by Sittenfeld's ability to evoke surprising details and
fresh perspectives. Recalling an Alaskan kayak trip where she predictably alienated
everyone, Hannah encapsulates her own plight by considering a lost pair of eyeglasses:
"It is dark and calm down there; fish slip past; her glasses rest untouched,
the clear plastic lenses and titanium frames. In the stillness without her,
the glasses see and see."
Like Hannah's self-sabotaging efforts to connect, the novel almost willfully
crashes and burns in its final pages. (The last chapter is ghastly: Hannah's
twenty-four-page letter to a former therapist, assessing her personal growth.)
But this misstep doesn't seriously mar Sittenfeld's considerable achievement.
Without inviting much sympathy, Hannah wins our admiration by mulishly insisting
on her right to see, no matter how disquieting the sight.
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