A budding romance with a famous singer forces a TV writer to grapple with her insecurities. Sally Milz, a 36-year-old writer for the Saturday Night Live--esque show The Night Owls, believes that others see her as "a mild-mannered woman of average intelligence and attractiveness." Shot down years ago after confessing her love to fellow TNO writer Elliot (who went on to marry a gorgeous pop star), Sally now keeps romantic prospects at arm's length. At work, she channels her anger at sexist double standards into uproarious sketches like "The Danny Horst Rule," a reference to a schlubby co-worker who, à la SNL's Pete Davidson, is dating well above his station. (Per that rule, a less-than-stunning woman can't pull off the same feat.) Enter this week's host, Noah Brewster, a gorgeous singer/songwriter whom Sally initially views with skepticism but with whom she has undeniable chemistry--a fact that simultaneously delights and terrifies her and sends her running until two years later, when the pair reconnect during the Covid-19 shutdown. Sittenfeld has a gift for plumbing the neuroses of perceptive outsiders ("a spy or an anthropologist" is how Sally characterizes herself). But while in Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep, Lee Fiora alternated between simmering resentment for her popular classmates and hope that they might embrace her, Sally is both resigned to her fate and more likely to buck it. With an Austen-esque eye for social nuance, the author also deftly teases out the currencies of Sally's world--physical attractiveness, talent, celebrity, youth--and explores how these elements intersect with gender. The book falters somewhat in its quick resolution; given how many pages Sally spends pondering the oddity of her dating Noah, it's disappointing that comparatively little time is devoted to exploring others' reactions to their actual relationship. Overall, though, the work is a pleasure, balancing probing analysis with an absorbing narrative. Romance artfully and entertainingly deconstructed. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
The culture wars and political drama of Sittenfeld's best work are absent in her underwhelming latest (after Rodham), which follows a successful but insecure woman who catches the eye of a rock star. It's 2018, and Sally Milz, 36, is a seasoned staff writer for the sketch comedy show The Night Owls, a thinly disguised SNL. She is busy pulling all-nighters and writing up a storm of skits, one of which is a spoof on gorgeous women actors dating nerdy, wordy guys--and how the opposite would never happen--when Noah Brewster, the host and musical guest for the upcoming episode, asks her to help him with some material. Despite their chemistry, Sally cannot believe that a gorgeous celebrity could fall in love with her. Then Covid comes along before they reconnect, first with a long string of emails during July 2020. In the third act, a month later, they reunite in person. The email thread goes on a bit too long, sapping the narrative of momentum, though Sittenfeld does manage to evoke Sally's vulnerability ("because I'm in danger of confusing the romance of emailing with the romance of romance," she writes to Noah). There's some brilliant character work, but as Cinderella stories go, this doesn't quite stand out. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Apr.)
When yet another shmopey guy--this time, her office mate at the Saturday Night Live--style show where she works--starts dating an uber-hot and talented female celebrity, comedy writer Sally channels her rage/certainty "that a gorgeous male celebrity would never fall in love with an ordinary, dorky, unkempt woman" into a sketch. The host and musical guest for this week's episode of The Night Owls is the "outrageously handsome" superstar Noah Brewster, who seeks Sally's help punching up his own sketch--she's known around the studio as the queen of comedic structure. Sure that there could be nothing between them, due to the aforementioned law-turned-sketch, intimacy-phobic (and perhaps ordinary, dorky, and unkempt) Sally is her best, brilliant, warm self with Noah during the weeklong lead-up to the show, a fun and frenetic frame for the book's first half that's full of insider-feeling, behind-the-scenes excitement. You can see where this might be going, and yet how much you'll enjoy getting there. Dialogue zips and zings as hearts plummet and soar through Sally and Noah's meeting, misunderstanding, and years-later rapprochement as COVID-19 dawns. Sittenfeld's (Rodham, 2020) meta-romance is an utterly perfect version of itself, a self-aware and pandemic-informed love story that's no less romantic for being either.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Sittenfeld's fiction has flown off shelves since her debut, Prep (2005), and fans will flock to this pure-fun, feminist romp.
Sittenfield, known for creating complicated women (Eligible; Rodham), does the same with Sally, a quirky, whip-smart writer at a fictionalized Saturday Night Live--esque show called The Night Owls. Working closely with celebrities has made her cynical about fake romance in pop culture. When pop star Noah Brewster guest-hosts, Sally writes a few of his sketches, and sparks seem to fly. Fast-forward to 2020, in the depths of the COVID lockdown; Noah and Sally reconnect, and the sparks start a bonfire. The desire in both of them to connect is so strong it bursts off the page. Sittenfield's writing is crisp and current, and her cultural references make this tender story sizzle. Reminiscent of 1999's Notting Hill, in which Hugh Grant as an everyman British bookstore owner falls in love with Julia Roberts's Hollywood actress, the novel also contains Sittenfield's trademark themes of gender politics and social class. VERDICT Buy multiple copies and get ready for the movie that's sure to follow Sittenfeld's latest novel. She consistently proves herself as one of the most readable contemporary novelists. Her books are impossible to put down, and the characters will continue to swim around in readers' minds long after the final chapters.--Beth Liebman Gibbs