Besides having one of the worst titles I have seen for a long time, The Oldest Virgin in Oakdale is one of the most inane stories I have read in a long time. The only thing saving it is its tongue-in-cheek humor, which keeps it from being a total waste of time.
Eleanor Lippert, veterinarian extraordinaire, is a book smart, independent woman in her hometown of Oakdale, Oregon. Her social life consists of getting take-out Chinese food from Mr. Yee every Friday night and enjoying it with her cat in front of the TV. She has never been on a real date, never been kissed and is therefore, a virgin at 29. She has convinced herself that she just hasn’t found the right man yet.
Cole Sullivan is suave, sophisticated and a self-made millionaire. When in high school, Cole wanted to excel so he could get a college scholarship to get out of the poor section of town where he lived. He approached the smartest person he knew to tutor him, and that person was Eleanor. Shy, wallflower Eleanor blossomed when in Cole’s presence. They developed a nice friendship, and Eleanor fell in love. But Cole, feeling he was not good enough for her, brushed it off.
The worst day of their relationship occurred when Cole informed Eleanor he was going to the prom with Sue Ann Colvin. Eleanor had fantasies of going with Cole. Assuming he would ask her, she had even put a dress into layaway. When he told her, she threw a book at him, hitting him in the chin, leaving a small scar. Their friendship was never the same.
It is now 12 years later and Cole has returned. He brings a stray dog into Eleanor’s vet clinic. In the midst of rekindling their friendship, Eleanor discovers that an old nun has died, leaving her “the oldest living virgin in Oakdale.” As she is sobbing this out to Cole, she gets an idea.
Cole can return the favor she did tutoring him, by being her love tutor. Yep, she wants him to teach her how to flirt and land a man, so she can marry, have kids and live happily ever after. For some innocuous reason, Cole agrees and what follows is a series of predictable situations, spouts of jealousy and Cole’s transformation into the kind of person Eleanor has always believed him to be.
Eleanor is a wimp and pretty desperate. How deeply buried in your books do you have to be to go through many years of college and never even have been kissed? And she is not described as ugly, just shy. Even after being rejected for the prom and not seeing or hearing from Cole for twelve years, she still harbors this love.
Cole is just as bad. He has had women, (after all, he is a macho man), but he has never let his emotions get into the picture. He has spent his time earning his way up the corporate ladder so that now he is a partner in an investment company. He is rich, but he is not happy. He has a convoluted plan to make his father pay for loving his company more than him and this has been his driving force all these years.
I found myself pitying both of these characters and pity is not usually an emotion I want to feel when reading a love story. Eleanor is satirically naïve and Cole is the angst-ridden man who can only be saved by the right woman. At one point, Cole asked Eleanor to help him take his shirt off. He is trying to change a flat tire, has grease on his hands and doesn’t want to get it dirty. She is flustered and has difficulty in unbuttoning the cuffs. He says to her:
“You perform delicate surgeries, right?” Eleanor nodded. “This shouldn’t be too hard then.”
Warren’s writing style is the only bright point in this story, but it is not enough. Much of the tale has the tone of satire, almost as if she is making fun of Eleanor’s naiveté. At one point, Cole is using the analogy of birds mating to show her how courtship is a ritual. Eleanor gets all hot and bothered and literally attacks his mouth. When she realizes he is not kissing her back, she embarrassingly thanks him for the bird analogy, which she belatedly understands, and says:
“That really cleared things up for me. And there’s nothing like a little practice to cement a concept firmly in your head, is there?”
It is amazing to me that by the end of this book Eleanor has hopes of no longer being a virgin. In this case, a silly title does harbor a silly tale. The Oldest Virgin in Oakdale should just stay on the shelf.