Monday, February 23, 2009

the romantics by gail niederhoffer

laura and lila were once as close as could be -- college roommates at the center of a tight-knit group of friends.  but the friendship has wilted a bit. now six years after college, the friends -- and the boyfriend they share -- have reunited for lila's weddng at her family's seaside estate in maine.

laura is reserved, single, an the only jew in the group, while the bride, lila, is a WASPy, moneyed golden girl, and the groom, tom, a swim-team star from a working class catholic background, is a perfect paradox of confidence and confusion. as the wedding draws near and the wine flows faster, the disappointments and desires of the reuniting friends come quickly to the surface. a drunken game on the estate's dock goes awry when the revealers are pulled out to sea by the current. when they swim back to shore, they are short one -- the groom. the search throws the group's shifting allegiances into relief and results in new betrayals as well as confessions.

with lila's picture-perfect maine summer house as the backdrop, laura not only sees her friends old friends in new light but reassesses herself as well: is she the only one of the group destined to be unmarried in her thirties? was it always this obvious that she was the only jew in a pride of WASPs? struggling with the traditionally thankless role of maid of honor -- not to mention contending with lila's formidable mother, augusta -- laura also realizes she can't stop thinking about her complicated, long, and intense relationship with the groom. but isn't that relationship in the past?

a wry observer of cultural and social mores, galt niederhoffer creates a pitch-perfect group of characters and a winning novel about friendship, class, and love.

dear galt niederhoffer,

i loved, LOVED, a taxonomy of barnacles. loved it. if wes anderson wrote a book, that would have been it. your debut was spectacular. thank you for such a lovely, charming, and hilarious book. it's a book that i am sure i'll read again and again. 

but here i am, utterly devastated by your sophomore novel. it's weak and spinless and trite. did you even try? or did you just think since your first book was so awesome you didn't actually have to put any effort into this one? oh, and i don't know who wrote that flap copy, but i could skipped reading your sad little novel and known everything that happened. have you heard of mystery? why give away the goods for free in the flap? and if your description of the novel extends on the back flap, then you know it is too long. too long! (if your editor wrote this, them my apologizes. please pass along my criticisms.) i was so broken-hearted reading this book. but i had optimism that it would get better. i was wrong. so wrong.

your characters are one dimensional, stereotypical, and loathsome. they are racists and elitists and smug. for no reason. even laura. she is ashamed of her culture and her religion. it's horrifying. and the swapping of romantic partners isn't sweet because the friends are mixed up and confused. it's repulsing and incestuous. and tom -- who wants to date him anyway? he's the least likely romantic lead in any book i've ever read. i can't imagine two women wanting him. and lila refuses to settle in life, so what is she doing here? i don't buy the flimsy motive that marrying tom is a safe rebellion for her. she doesn't love him and he doesn't worship her. if lila is going to settle in love, she strikes me as the type of girl who will settle for the man head over heels in love and adoration with her. and lila. oh good god please. could she have, even just once, said something honest? or spoke her mind to at least lila. and without promptly apologizing two seconds later. apparently not. 

the plot is obvious. it's contrived. and you have brought nothing original to the table in this story. in fact, i'm pretty sure you stole this story directly from a yale co-ed's summer weekend. there is nothing pushing the story along. the tension and suspense is forced and limp. you overwrite, over-describe, and over-extend everything. it's like you think your readers are morons. not everything has to be spelled out for us. learn the reveal details over the story. don't hand it to us in the first chapter.  we're not idiots. we can make the commitment to stick with a book for almost 300 pages. you underestimate the reader and that's insulting.

what happened to you? i had bigger hopes for the romantics and you disappoint on so many levels. if i wanted to be painfully submerged in vain, obnoxious characters and a weary, recycled story like this one i would have hopped a train to the upper east side. i could have at least had an over-priced cup of coffee with my view of pretension. 

i expect to be blown away with whatever your next novel is. otherwise, this might be it for us.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader


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