Twenty-nine year old attorney Beth Eleanor Evans (Bee) is preparing for her upscale wedding to Matt Fee, which is scheduled to take place in two days at a country club in Annapolis, Maryland. The unattached people who are scheduled to attend are "The Singles" in Meredith Goldstein's seriocomic novel about the lives, loves, and tribulations of Hannah Martin, Rob Nutley, Vicki Clifford, Joe Evans, and an uninvited guest named Phil MacGowan, a stand-in for his ailing mother, Nancy.
Each single has a back story. Hannah, a New York-based casting director, still pines for the boyfriend who got away. Rob was once close to Hannah, but he now lives in Austin, where he works at the University of Texas library and writes free-lance book reviews. Vicki is chronically depressed and has a tedious but lucrative job in Rochester as an interior designer for a supermarket chain. Phil, who is in his late thirties, is still overly attached to his mother. Joe, Bee's uncle, is divorced, in his forties, and likes to dally with younger women.
"The Singles" has a number of scenes in which Hannah and company drink excessively, pop pills, and use profane language. They make spectacles of themselves, yearn for the unattainable, and fail to take responsibility for their actions. The good-hearted Bee cares about them, but when her wedding day arrives, she will have reason to regret her decision to include them in the festivities.
This is a mildly humorous, but ultimately dispiriting work of fiction about men and women who, like Peter Pan, are emotionally childlike. Goldstein gives each single his or her own chapters during which we learn a bit more about their disappointments, fears, and hopes. The author could have resorted to the cliché of giving these lost souls sudden epiphanies during which they realize the error of their ways and snap out of their doldrums. Instead, to her credit, she shows them blundering again and again. Only gradually do they inch towards a measure of self-awareness that might someday earn them the right to be considered full-fledged adults.