The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Two years ago, I read Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld on our spring vacation. I thought it was a well-written story, but, like Brandi, I thought the end was a bit of a cop-out. It was good enough, though, to make me want to read her second book when it came out last year. It just took me a while to get around to it.

I have to admit that I also wanted to read it to see if I thought it was chick lit. Because Curtis Sittenfeld wrote a scathing review of Melissa Bank’s latest book, The Wonder Spot, back when it came out, derisively calling it chick lit. I remember, when this all happened, reading an interesting article at the time, talking about the dichotomy between chicks who write literature and “chick lit.” Jennifer Weiner also did an interesting dissection of the review on her blog that is worth checking out if you care about this issue at all. It’s a little unkind, but Jennifer Weiner writes chick lit, so I suppose she’s allowed to be a little unkind in this situation.

Anyway. I happened to think that both of Melissa Bank’s books ultimately held together better than Prep did (I vastly preferred The Wonder Spot to A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, if you were wondering, which you probably weren’t), but I wanted to see what she could do with her second chance. The Man of My Dreams is about Hannah, a shy insecure girl who comes from a family with an abusive father, as she navigates her way through college and her 20s. It focuses both on her relationships with men and her relationships with the women in her life, specifically her older sister and her cousin, who is almost the same age.

I have to say that, rereading Sittenfeld’s review of The Wonder Spot, it’s interesting to note that she called it “jumpy.” That’s one thing I would have said about The Man of My Dreams. At least, I thought that the way that it moved through time and events was similar to The Wonder Spot, so, according to Sittenfeld’s own words, that would make it jumpy. It was a fast read, though, and I was involved in the story as it was taking place. I told Brandi that I don’t think it was quite as good as Prep overall, but I liked the way that it ended better. The New Yorker didn’t agree with me about the ending, calling it “disastrously clunky” and “intended to temper the conventional happy ending that would place this novel squarely in the ‘chick lit’ category.” I won’t argue with that; I do think that the ending was an attempt to be more literary. I wish that Hannah had gotten a more traditional ending instead. But at least this ending didn’t feel like a cop-out. The story felt completed, and I felt that Hannah got somewhere in her journey.

I don’t have a problem with the phrase “chick lit,” but I think Curtis Sittenfeld does. The Man of My Dreams does strive, in its tone and approach to be somehow “more” than just the chick lit genre, but despite these efforts, it’s still a book about a girl making her way through the world and looking for a man. Doesn’t that sound like chick lit to you?

And isn’t it okay for that to be the case?

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