The Man of My Dreams: A Novel Paperback – Apr 10 2007
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
Hannah Gavener has suffered from low self-esteem plagued by insecurity and mistrust for men since the age of 14, when her parents marriage falls apart. Over the next decade or so you watch as she grows up, explores the different types of relationships out there - casual, unrequited, platonic, open, and meaningful - and how she functions within them. Along the way you learn about Hannah's distaste for society's false social cues, and her secret idealism for others. The book is supported by several interwoven storylines from sub-characters including her gorgeous yet wild cousin Fig, her kind-hearted yet irritating sister Allison, and other various family members including her parents as they rebuild their lives without one another.
Ultimately I can't review this book without touching on Prep - since that is where most people will have heard of Sittenfeld and its how most people will come across this book.
The two are quite similar in that they are divided into 9-10 'chapters' which are really interweaving short stories set at different points in the main character's life. They both feature a narrator (although Lee is in first person, Hannah is almost entirely written in third person) who suffers from insecurity and self-doubt, particularly when it comes to the realms of socialibility and relationships. They both feature daughters straining to find autonomy from their slightly estranged parents.
They're different though, based solely on the age gap. Lee is in high school, and as such all of the events in Prep take place at one school, over four years, with many of the same characters reoccuring and building on the story. Hannah's story takes place in four different locations over a much larger span of time - representing the varied experiences of adulthood quite fully...but also disparingly. Much like in TV shows that fail to ignite fans during the high school to college transition, the Man of my Dreams suffers slightly since the storyline is not so tightly knit with an established cast of characters.
The other main difference is apparent between the attitudes of Lee and Hannah. While both are somewhat 'outsiders', Lee is relatable again and again to virtually every teenager's feelings of insecurity - past or present. Hannah on the other hand, is often so far gone off the unsociable deep end that you want to give her a firm shake and tell her to just suck it up and be friendly!
That being said - Man of My Dreams is still a great book as it straddles quite eloquently the realms of fiction, 'biography', literature, and to a small degree, chick lit. Curtis Sittenfeld is not your average writer and perhaps my favourite thing about her books is not the characterization or the plots but the acute attention to detail. The observations her characters are so mundane and ordinary, or at other times extremely insightful, you can't help but appreciate their cleverness. I look forward to reading more from this author!