Thursday, March 1, 2012

Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook

Romantic comedies are rarely as well done and as charming as Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook, a fun, light read with warmth as well as wit. Though rom-coms typically do not appeal to me, I found this one to be a highly enjoyable tale of a midlife crisis and the trials and tribulations of courtship.

Must Love Dogs tells the story of preschool teacher Sarah Hurlihy, who, having tired of spending evenings at home watching The Brady Bunch, attempts to venture back into the dating scene after her divorce. Hilarity ensues when her bossy older sister places a personal ad for her behind her back that, to her dismay, reads, “Voluptuous, sensuous, alluring and fun. Barely 40 DWF seeks special man to share starlit nights. Must love dogs.” Before long, Sarah finds herself juggling more men than she can handle—each more quirky and questionable than the last—while getting caught in the middle of the romantic escapades of her widowed father, and the entrance of a Saint Bernard puppy into her life.

Sarah’s rapport with her large Irish-American family—which includes five siblings—ought to be painfully familiar to those who have experienced the constant meddling, lack of privacy, and general wackiness that comes with a claustrophobic family environment. Sarah, ever the multi-tasker, often finds herself the mediator between her sister and her rebellious niece, as well as between her roguish father and his girlfriend, all while attempting to comfort her brother throughout his marital problems. Meanwhile, every failed date, faux pas and awkward situation she endures provides fodder for embarrassing stories at future Thanksgivings.

In a culture that idealizes youth and has many a novel out there about young people falling in star-crossed love, a 40-year-old divorcee for a heroine—with all the imperfections and insecurities as any woman her age, in her position—is a breath of fresh air. A dryly witty, self-depreciating narrator, Sarah is relatable enough for readers to feel as though they’re having lunch with her at a café, listening to her funny stories of romantic entanglements and familial mayhem.

Must Love Dogs ought to strike a familiar chord with readers with large families or tumultuous love lives, or those who just enjoy a good laugh. It would allow one to take a break from the drama of their daily life and enjoy someone else’s for a change.

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