The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

October 26, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): This is the story of Hannah Gavener’s quest to find a man she can love and share her life with. It spans nearly fifteen years, beginning when Hannah was a teenager obsessed with the seemingly perfect dating lives of celebrities like Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland, and jumps around to significant points in Hannah’s life: college, her first serious boyfriend, her first job and office fling, the first man she considers to be a potential soul mate.

Hannah is an insightful narrator, who is at once witty and clever, yet not all-knowing and perfect. She makes mistakes — sometimes big ones, like with Henry — and lets people push her around (like her cousin Fig). She thinks she knows what she wants, but once she finally has that thing (or person) in her grasp, she realizes she was completely wrong about it. In short, Hannah is like most 20-somethings and is therefore highly relatable.

If it sounds like I’m not getting into the plot very much, that’s because this is the sort of book where the plot is really secondary to the characters. I could tell you the details about Hannah’s relationship with Mike, the first time she fell in love with Henry on the drive to Cape Cod to rescue Fig, or her subsequent semi-open relationship with the skirt-chasing Oliver, a guy who would no doubt drop her like a hot potato at the first sign she needed eye wrinkle cream or liposuction, but what would be the point? Most of the appeal of this novel comes from watching Hannah change and grow as she gets a better understanding of herself with age and experience.

Liked:

  • This is the third Sittenfeld novel I’ve read, and I now consider myself a fan. She is a wonderful writer and is able to create such vivid, realistic characters! I think it’s safe to say that I’m going to buy her next book as soon as it’s released for Kindle.
  • Hannah was a terrific main character. As I mentioned above, it was easy to relate to her because she was intelligent without being a brainiac, decent-looking without being a beauty queen, and unsure about her future without being wishy-washy or flaky. She could be us; we could be her.
  • I thought most of the scenes, most of the characters in this book were pretty realistic. I just finished this yesterday, and in reflecting on the occurrences now, I can’t really remember anything that stuck out as a “yeah, right!” moment. That made the book even more enjoyable for me.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t like that the book ended with Hannah writing that incredible lengthy letter to her former therapist. First, I couldn’t help but think, “Damn, that’s a long letter!” Second, it just kind of seemed like a literary device that Sittenfeld employed to conveniently tie up all the loose ends and open questions before ending the book. It was expository without being all-out exposition just because it was in letter form (if that makes sense).

Rating:

Despite not liking the way the novel ended, I have to say that The Man of My Dreams was an excellent read. I was caught up in Hannah’s life almost right from the beginning, and enjoyed journeying with her through her most formative years. She reminded me of myself in a few ways, but she was also sufficiently different that I could step back and take this for what it was: just a very good book. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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