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The Man of My Dreams: A Novel [Paperback]

Curtis Sittenfeld
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 10 2007
“Being raised in an unstable household makes you understand that the world doesn’t exist to accommodate you, which, in Hannah’s observation, is something a lot of people struggle to understand well into adulthood.”–from The Man of My Dreams

In her acclaimed debut novel, Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld created a touchstone with her pitch-perfect portrayal of adolescence. Her prose is as intensely realistic and compelling as ever in The Man of My Dreams, a disarmingly candid and sympathetic novel about the collision of a young woman’s fantasies of family and love with the challenges and realities of adult life.

Hannah Gavener is fourteen in the summer of 1991. In the magazines she reads, celebrities plan elaborate weddings; in Hannah’s own life, her parents’ marriage is crumbling. And somewhere in between these two extremes–just maybe–lie the answers to love’s most bewildering questions. But over the next decade and a half, as she moves from Philadelphia to Boston to Albuquerque, Hannah finds that the questions become more rather than less complicated: At what point can you no longer blame your adult failures on your messed-up childhood? Is settling for someone who’s not your soul mate an act of maturity or an admission of defeat? And if you move to another state for a guy who might not love you back, are you being plucky–or just pathetic?

None of the relationships in Hannah’s life are without complications. There’s her father, whose stubbornness Hannah realizes she’s unfortunately inherited; her gorgeous cousin, Fig, whose misbehavior alternately intrigues and irritates Hannah; Henry, whom Hannah first falls for in college, while he’s dating Fig; and the boyfriends who love her more or less than she deserves, who adore her or break her heart. By the time she’s in her late twenties, Hannah has finally figured out what she wants most–but she doesn’t yet know whether she’ll find the courage to go after it.

Full of honesty and humor, The Man of My Dreams is an unnervingly insightful and beautifully written examination of the outside forces and personal choices that make us who we are.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Sittenfeld's poignant if generic follow-up to her bestselling debut, Prep, similarly tracks a young woman's coming-of-age, but rather than navigating an elite school's nasty and brutish social system, this time the narrator contends with a dysfunctional family and her own yearnings for love. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Gavener is abruptly shipped off from Philadelphia to live with her aunt in Pittsburgh when her mercurial, vindictive father breaks up his marriage and family, which includes Hannah's older sister, Allison, and their browbeaten mother. Sweet but insecure and passive, Hannah had "been raised... not to be accommodated but to accommodate," an upbringing that hobbles all her subsequent relationships. The novel follows Hannah through her teens and late 20s (from 1991 to 2005), as she searches for romantic fulfillment, navigates friendships (e.g., with her larger-than-life cousin Fig) and alternately tries to reconcile with her father and distance herself from him. But the most influential connection Hannah makes is with her psychiatrist, Dr. Lewin, whom she begins seeing her freshman year at Tufts. Although the novel aspires to be taken seriously and Hannah is a sympathetic protagonist, she remains a textbook case of a young woman who wants "a man who will deny her. A man of her own who isn't hers."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Sittenfeld's second novel is as sharply written as her first, Prep(2005), which chronicled one girl's experiences at an elite private high school. The heroine of her follow-up novel is Hannah Gavener, who, at age 14, is grappling with her mother's decision to stand up to her controlling father. The storyline follows Hannah through college and afterwards as she tries to find the kind of romance she believes she's looking for. Her glamorous, beautiful cousin, Fig, never seems to have trouble finding guys, and it is one of Fig's on-again, off-again boyfriends, Henry, who captivates Hannah and becomes her ideal. She goes through two boyfriends--one who is smitten with her, and one who isn't able to stay faithful--before deciding to pursue Henry and find out if he really does hold the key to her happiness. As is often the case in life, things don't work out quite according to plan, and the result is a novel that rings completely true. The magic of this coming-of-age tale lies in how it captures a generation of young women's anxiety and confusion about finding love and direction in their lives. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... May 30 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Although this book bears a banal and generic title, Curtis Sittenfeld's second novel, "The Man of My Dreams," is almost as enjoyable as her first ("Prep," 2005). When the book opens, 14-year-old Hannah Gavener is grappling with her mother's decision to stand up to her controlling father. The storyline follows Hannah through college and afterwards as she tries to find the kind of romance she believes she desires. As is so often the case in life, things don't quite work out according to plan; as a result, this novel rings completely true, vividly capturing a young woman's anxiety and confusion about finding love and direction.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The tragedy of unfounded hopes Nov. 8 2008
Format:Paperback
Although The Man of My Dreams is a really banal title, the concerns of the novel it represents are at times profound. But then its author, Curtis Sittenfeld, is such a contrarian writer that quite possibly she wanted the title to cut both ways: on the one hand to be seen as ironic, but on the other to be seen as so wildly hopeful that both her fans and her new readers would immediately know that if ironies follow sorrow, then hopes (and above all unfounded hopes) precede it.

Sittenfeld's novel is certainly all about unfounded hopes, and for her protagonist, Hannah Gavener, the man of her dreams is Henry, a former boyfriend of Hannah's beautiful cousin Fig. Sittenfeld astutely captures Hannah's long adoration of Henry as well as Henry's alternating layers of uncanny emotional awareness and casual dishonesty. But Henry could also be what Hannah has always most truly desired: "a man who will deny her; a man of her own who isn't hers."

The man of Fig's dreams is a man we never meet, we only see her planning to fly out to California to spend time with him, and in a much later chapter we see her reveal two things that startle Hannah: (1) that she no longer remembers this man; not his name, not his profession, not anything about him, and (2) after years of being the object of stunned worship from multitudes of men, Fig has fallen in love with a woman.

But this novel suffers a kind of death when it's reduced to a story line; the real news about Sittenfeld is that she is such an honest and usefully detached writer that it can be an extreme pleasure reading her dissections of sex, first sex, humiliation, resentment, wistful envy, rueful ire, and the formal surprises that come with forgiveness.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  82 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Complex and Interesting Protagonist July 18 2006
By Brett Benner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The wonderfully misleading thing I found about this book as well as 'Prep' was that you think it's just another fluffy coming of age story complete with a wry, sarcastic narrator who always has some witty, glib comment to make while achieving a rich and deserving fictional happiness.How far this is from the truth. Sittenfeld carves out young Hannah Gavener's quest for her prince charming and happily ever after with a blunt end of sobering reality. Not afraid of embuing Hannah with some ugly characteristics makes her so much more identifiable, and consequently sympathetic and relatable. Sittenfeld is a terrific writer, and most importantly one that continues to not be afraid to present people as they really are without a concern for what anyone thinks.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Effort, a Good Book, But Don't Expect it on any Year-End lists July 3 2006
By Amy Senk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When your first book is as amazing as Prep, your second book had better be great. Readers have high expectations. We know what we can rightfully expect.

Curtis Sittenfeld, unlike a lot of young writers with one successful novel on the shelves, didn't fail her audience with The Man of My Dreams. The story follows Hannah from childhood through adulthood, in and out of relationships as she struggles to find a way to be happy and comfortable and true.

The writing is wonderful, capturing the moods of a bad camping trip, of being trapped in a car with a bullying father, of the ambivalence a woman feels with a too-doting lover. Hannah rings very true to life; there is nothing exaggerated or false.

The writing and character developments may be great, but the book feels very much like a short-story collection, like a variation on Melissa Bank and her latest book The Wonder Spot. This isn't a failure, but it's a surprise. A reader could rightfully expect something more original from Sittenfeld, something more profound.

Being pleasantly entertained is wonderful, but one hopes that Sittenfeld reaches a little out of her comfort zone for her next book.

It would be great if she could channel the writing into something that is more than the sum of its parts.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sophomore Jinx? June 12 2006
By John Oller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I mostly enjoyed reading this novel and got through it quickly, but started liking it less almost the minute I finished it. The format was very "Prep" like, what with the skipping over from one time period to the next. However, whereas this device worked well in "Prep," perhaps because time was gated by the beginning and ending of four years of school, here I found it abrupt and jarring. If anything it left too much to be filled in by the imagination. I almost had the sense the book (and writing) were rushed to capitalize on the success of "Prep" so that the author did not become another "Donna Tartt." The last chapter, in particular, seemed like a cheap way out and was overwrought IMO.

Ms. Sittenfeld is an excellent writer and I hope that in her next outing she tackles a different theme ("Dreams" was essentially a carbon copy of "Prep", thematically) and that she follows a more traditional, linear format just to see if she can pull it off.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Prep 2.0 Nov. 1 2006
By Victoria M. Pond - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This novel revisits the major themes of "Prep": (1) social outcast girl (2) with difficult, overly demanding father (3) grows up to believe that men cannot love her. (4) Becomes fixated with notion that she is unattractive/boring. (5) Has blissful car ride with unattainable hot boy who flirts during the car ride and then (6) has no contact with him for years. (7) Has demoralizing "affair" with compulsive sex addict who pursues other women while also sleeping with her. (8) Lacks interest in boy (tutor in "Prep," earnest boyfriend here) who worships and bores her. Is eclipsed by prettier girls. Obsesses with the notion that only pretty girls will ever count and she's not one of them. (9) Takes baby steps towards "makeover" (learns to eat pasta in front of others in Prep, thereby displaying newfound confidence; loses the glasses and gets contact lenses here) but never displays any real spunk, energy, or appetite for life.

The difference is that where "Prep" is claustrophobically, stiflingly intense, and compellingly readable if lifeless, "The Man of My Dreams" is mere pallid, unsatisfying chick lit: it's a fairly lightweight, non-tragic novel about young woman coming of age & trying to find Mr. Right. But it's chick lit without the fun accessories, the overpriced shoes, the drunken one-night stands with the wrong guy, the hilarious/reckless girlfriends, the glamorous job, the fun urban nightclubs. Less intelligent writers like Plum Sykes have produced more satisfying fare, like "Bergdorf Blondes," because their characters have some fun and glamor.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Little...Too Soon? June 14 2006
By Elizabeth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While most of Sittenfeld's first novel "Prep" left me gasping with post-traumatic stress symptoms born of my own adolescence, this follow up simply left me gasping for a real plot and credible, likeable characters. The writing, while still intelligent, has a flat, static quality, lacking the definition, clarity, momentum and preternatural emotional wisdom of its predecessor. Hannah inspires little in me but impatience, and most of her supporting cast members are either too vague or too stylized to be understood and/or believed.

Ironically, this second novel is perhaps a more authentic snapshot of the murkier, less rarified adolescence many experience; I recall being acutely conscious that the voices of Prep's youthful characters were imbued with a suspiciously advanced wealth of insight and mastery of language. Nonetheless, it is the crystallization of such insight that makes most memoir-style/coming of age stories worth reading, not merely the excrutiating--and often colorless--'real-time' detail of the journey.

I have the sense that Ms. Sittenfeld, no doubt justifiably energized and enthused by her debut success, has rushed into an 'afterthought' sophomore effort, retreading what feels like unused surplus material from earlier ideas. I hope that she will take a good long trashy summer vacation...an autumn sabbatical...whatever further hiatus may be necessary for her to refresh and further refine her obvious gifts into richer, more fully-realized work.
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