Maybe Baby

 
Ex And The Single Girl
by Lani Diane Rich
(Warner 5Spot, $12.95, G) ISBN 0-446-69307-3
*****
“Honey, there’s no such thing as crazy. There’s just degrees of interesting.” – Aunt Vera

And those literary snobs keep saying that Chick Lit is dead. If Rich’s third book is any indication the funeral needs to be postponed indefinitely. After finishing my advanced copy in one sitting, I closed the back cover only to realize that I hadn’t been this emotionally invested in a book in a long time.

Portia Fallon has been dumped by her long-time boyfriend, on Valentine’s Day no less. He didn’t even break up to her face. No, Portia came home to discover a hastily scribbled goodbye on the title page of Peter’s well-reviewed but poorly sold literary novel. For the last several months, she has taken to watching Pride & Prejudice repeatedly, drinking bottles of chardonnay and eating bags of Cheetos. Oh, and she’s pretty much ceased to work on her dissertation.

Then Portia’s mother calls telling stories of a horrible back injury and could she please come home and help run the family bookstore? She’s all set to say no when Portia realizes a startling truth – she’s about one step away from becoming a Crazy Cat Lady. So she packs her bags, sublets her apartment and leaves Syracuse, New York for Truly, Georgia.

However once in Truly Portia realizes she’s been had. Her mother, Mags, is perfectly fine. So are her aunt, Vera, and her grandmother, Bev. In fact, they’ve asked Portia to make the long drive to Truly for the sole purpose of getting her laid. She’s been entirely too mopey since Peter left. The girl needs a “Flyer” or in code understood by everyone else, a Rebound Man. A guy Portia can have great sex with and who can help get Peter out of her system. The Miz Fallons have just the guy – sexy British spy novelist Ian Beckett, who is in town working on his latest book.

On first glance Ex And The Single Girl reminded me a lot of the play (or movie) Steel Magnolias, if it were told in first person and without any death. Rich writes about an engaging small Southern town populated by eccentric and endearing characters. The Miz Fallons play a very large role in this story as Portia comes to terms with who she is, why the women in her family are destined to be man-less, and what she wants out of her life. Portia must take a hard look at herself, and she does this by taking an equally hard look at the women who raised her.

The romance here is sweet, as Ian and Portia have a fantastic repartee and friendship starting right when they meet for the first time. It’s all very charming and witty, and gets further complicated when Portia finds herself confronted once again with the Peter mess.

That’s all well and good, but it is the emotional depth that ultimately elevates this novel to keeper status. Rich does not take the easy way out. While this story is very funny, it’s not just funny. The author easily could have kept the funny going and never really allowed her characters to grow and analyze their feelings and shortcomings. Portia may start the novel wallowing in self-pity, but by the end she has made herself better. She doesn’t do this just by bagging a man, but by really looking at herself, understanding who she is and who the women in her family are.

Ex And The Single Girl isn’t a long book (less than 300 pages), but it packs a punch. I was most struck by how there were no real villains in this story, only real people with their own baggage and foibles. Even the seemingly despicable Peter is allowed to have some depth, making Portia’s exploration into her past all the more complex. Our girl has choices to make, a past to examine and a life to live. As the reader, I wanted nothing more than for her win. She does, and it makes for a most satisfying read. Highly, highly recommended. Bravo Ms. Rich!

--Wendy Crutcher


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