Reading the eighteen stories that make up this delightful novel is a little like going through a frenetic friend's box of family photos. The pictures are not in order and each one triggers another trip down memory lane, with many detours and evoking buried emotions. These include tales of her wanderlust that draws her back and forth across the country as she tries to find her place, her failed attempts to "win an Oscar in any category," the fickle and faithful friendships, and her many encounters with men, including the pervert porn producer and the forty-something rock star with "issues."
Author Elizabeth Crane, as she notes about one of her characters, "has a keen sense of observation with regard to human nature." In addition, she has a way with words that keeps the reader engaged as she relates stories in the life of Charlotte Anne Byers from age six to age forty. The child's vignettes begin when the precocious little bundle of energy is eight years old, riding the bus alone in New York City to perform in the children's chorus of the New York Opera. Even at her prepubescent age, Charlotte's mind is occupied by thoughts of love for Dante DiMedici, an older man of fifteen who is still "gender uncertain." Later she develops stage fright that pretty much ends her operatic career, but her misadventures with men go on and on.
The adult Charlotte's stories begin with her writing a lengthy personal ad...about seven pages long. In it she recalls a "brief but compellingly unfortunate prior experience in which one respondent who described himself as a handsome and well-dressed forty-year-old in fact could only be compared to Deputy Dog, if D. Dog had a comb-over and wore a soiled t-shirt with pleated pants and was closer to sixty and not a cartoon."
One of many memorable chapters is where Charlotte outlines the things that she loves about her mom, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Mom was not your typical cookie baker but "once she reupholstered Charlotte's queen-size sleeper sofa with white fabric even though it's so impractical and she never threw anything away that Charlotte might possibly have wanted or needed." But I think my favorite was the last chapter, which contains every happy-ending cliché you can think of and then some --- a must for us diehard romantics.
At times Crane's prose will seem poignant, at others pointless, depending on your perspective at the moment, and her lengthy, mind-numbing sentences can cause your eyes to glaze over if you don't stay alert. But this series of short stories written in her unique, breathless style is sure to have you nodding and smiling throughout.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 22, 2010