June 4, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Books | June 4, 2008 |


There was a certain kismet in how I ended up reading James Collins debut novel; a few weeks ago, too lazy to walk my ass downstairs to get the book I was in the midst of reading, I picked up the copy of Beginner’s Greek from a pile of books in my office. The title, the cover, and the subject material all led me to believe it was a man’s stab at chick lit, but I decided to read the first page anyway. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. By the time I’d finished the first chapter, I was hooked, and I polished off the novel faster than any other I’ve read since parenthood kicked my reading time in the ass.

In a way, I suppose, you could still call Beginner’s Greek chick lit, if you define the term broadly enough — it’s a layered love story slash comedy of manners, and these days, unless there’s a high-brow concept or a sci-fi element involved, love stories tend to get tossed into the same big chick-lit rubbish bin. But with 400 pages of intelligent prose, replete with smart literary and pop culture references, rather than tiresome nods to shoes or labels, Beginner’s Greek is not exactly typical beach-reading fare. It’s old-fashioned chick-lit, a love story written the way it ought to be — part Jane Austen, part Tom Wolfe, and part Louis Auchincloss, the rare fictional romantic comedy (with hints of satire) that goes back to the basics — boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy fights to get girl back — and succeeds based largely on the strength of the well-drawn, crazy-likable characters.

Peter, a frustratingly passive investment banker/romantic with an active mind, dreams up an ideal seat-mate on a flight to Los Angeles one day, and lo and behold, he meets Holly, lovely, smart charming Holly, to be played by Rachel McAdams, I’m sure, in the inevitable movie adaptation. She’s reading Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain (how often do you see that on a plane?), and a five-hour fall-madly-in-love conversation ensues. Holly gives Peter her number as they deplane, and for Peter, marriage, children, and side-by-side plots in a peaceful wooded cemetery seem all but certain. The catch? Peter loses the goddamn phone number. (*facepalm*)

As serendipity would have it, Peter does meet Holly again a few years later. Only by then, Peter’s engaged to Charlotte, and motherfucker, wouldn’t you know: Holly is married to Peter’s cad of a best friend (I said it was a good book, not a realistic one). Peter and Holly still have strong feelings for one another, but both are too nice and too loyal to their also-rans to say anything about it to each other, or anyone else. So, they pine and they pine, and they silently wait for fate to do its thing, while we - the reader - enjoy the numerous characters and plot twists that impinge on their lives while we too suffer, hoping beyond hope that karma’s musical chairs will bring the crazy kids together.

Of course, I realize — reading over the my plot summary — that I sound like a teenage girl praying for Ross and Rachel to finally close the deal. But I swear to those among you who still have an inkling of romantic yearning within your cold, black, jaded coal-sized hearts: Beginner’s Greek is about true love: Jim and Pam, Wesley and Buttercup, Desmond and Penelope love. It’s not Neil Gaimann, it’s not Nick Hornby, nor is it a cool novel full of Klostermanesque cultural allusions, but — if you’re willing to suspend disbelief — it is a charming page turner that will fill you with lovesick ache and leave you with a heart full of euphoria. Seriously: Next time you’re in your local book emporium, pick it up. Read the first chapter. That’s a dare.

And now I will shut up before this goes any farther. I’m going to make myself gag. How about them Colts? Man, I’d tap that. Bring me a beer, bitch!

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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Meet Me in Montauk

Beginner's Greek by James Collins / Dustin Rowles

Books | June 4, 2008 | Comments ()



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