Starting From Square Two, by Caren Lissner

>> Thursday, May 19, 2005

A big thank you to Jennifer for sending me Starting From Square Two, by Caren Lissner.

Gert Healy thought she was finished with dating. She thought she'd never again have to worry about what to wear and what to say and whether she was pretty enough. She thought that she'd be picking out strollers and booties for the children she and her husband were planning to have. Instead, she's mourning his loss and coming to terms with being a widow at twenty-nine.

It's been over a year now, and her friends -- with the best of intentions, really -- have convinced her it's time to get back into the swing of things (even though looking for love is the last thing she wants to do). Although they've developed many a dating rule between them, now that Gert's a part of their single-girl crew, she's beginning to realize they don't know the first thing about men. Of course, Gert doesn't know the first thing about dating, since she married her college sweetheart, so maybe joining forces will work out after all. But does Gert have it in her to fight her way through the leather-jacketed and miniskirted crowds in search of a second miracle?

It's back to square one on everything. Well, actually she's done it all before. Square two, then.
This was an interesting book. I did enjoy reading it quite a bit, even if it never completely engaged my emotions. A B-.

SFST is chick-lit, but it's different from anything else in the genre I've read. It's sadder and more thoughtful. I don't mean that it's depressing, not at all, and there are many funny bits, but the tone is almost melancolic at times. Which, of course, is logical since the main focus is Gert and her grief at her husbands death about a year and a half before.

What I liked best about the book is the genuineness of the the emotions and the relationships in it. Gert's feelings about her husband's death and about being alone again, after believing for years that she was pretty much set relationshipwise, her friendship with Hallie and Erika, the slow rebuilding of her romantic life, her relationship with her (former?) in-laws... Nothing is simplified or glossed over, everything is thoughtfully (there's that word again) explored.

There are a couple of negatives, though. The most important one is that Gert just wasn't a particularly interesting character. She's nice, she's intelligent, she's likeable, but she's a bit bland. And the third person POV felt like it kept a distance between reader and protagonist.

Also, I had a few qualms about Gert's romance. It was pretty nice, and Todd was really sweet, but I felt a little resentful at how Gert gets into a great relationship with no effort on her part. First time she goes out after Marc's death, first bar she goes into, first guy she talks to. It felt especially weird because one of Gert's revelations, which makes her friendship with Hallie and Erika much healthier, is that she has been thinking that it's single girls' fault that they're single, that she's been blaming them for not doing things right.

Oh, something interesting was the inclusion of 9/11 in the story. It's especially interesting to me because of comments I read about Nora Roberts' Blue Dahlia, in which the heroine's husband had died in September 2001 but nothing is made of this. Here, Marc died on September 7th 2001 and this features in the story. Gert thinks about how it was not her world alone that exploded that September, simply that hers exploded 4 days earlier than everyone else's. She notes that a few years before, there would have been almost no young widows with whom to form a support group like hers, but 9/11 changed that.

It was an interesting read. I'm planning to search for Carrie Pillby, by this author. It sounds like it has a more interesting narrator, so if it also has the same strengths, it will be a winner.


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