The Big Love by Sarah Dunn

The Big Love by Sarah Dunn

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 228 pages, 2004

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: Chant with me now: “Summer and chick-lit! Summer and chick-lit!’

Synopsis: Alison Hopkins is getting ready for a dinner party and sends her boyfriend of four years, Tom, out to get some Dijon mustard, but instead of returning he phones her to say he’s leaving because he’s in love with someone else. What’s a girl – a thirty-two-year-old girl that’s just lost her first and only ‘real’ boyfriend, no less – to do in a world of endless possibilities? A long-time friend, an off-limits co-worker, the stranger upstairs, or – dare she even think it – trying to win back Tom: is her romantic happiness destined to be linked with one of them, or is she searching for love in all the wrong places?

Why you should read this book: Are you desperately missing Sex and the City? The Big Love can quench your thirst – but with much more of an innocent, optimistic ‘Charlotte’ vibe than a hysterically self-centered ‘Carrie’ vibe. While most heroines in chick-lit books are sexually adventurous/experienced, at thirty-two, Alison can count the number of men she’s slept with on one hand – with fingers left over. You don’t really see a lot of other chick lit books where the main character is struggling to overcome a rigidly Christian upbringing, or trying to decide if it’s something she even should be struggling to overcome. The Big Love has everything you need for a satisfying read: a heroine worth rooting for, various men to loathe or love, some good friends for Alison to dish with, and Dunn’s great sense of humour. Pull out a lawn chair and the sunscreen, and settle in for some commiseration and some big laughs.

Why you should avoid this book: It really wouldn’t be chick-lit without the occasional urge to throttle the leading lady for doing moronic things for the sake of a man, would it? Not frequently in The Big Love, fortunately, but enough to find yourself muttering ‘Oh, for the love of…!’ a few times.

Opening paragraph:

To be fair to him, there is probably no way that Tom could have left that would have made me happy. As it turns out, I’m in no mood to be fair to him, but I will do my best to be accurate. It was the last weekend in September. We were having a dinner party. Our guests were about to arrive. I ran out of Dijon mustard, which I needed for the sauce for the chicken, and so I sent my boyfriend Tom – my ‘live-in’ boyfriend Tom as my mother always called him – off to the grocery store to get some. ‘Don’t get the spicy kind,’ was, I’m pretty sure, what I said to him right before he left, because one of the people coming over was my best friend Bonnie, who happened to be seven months pregnant at the time, and spicy food makes Bonnie sweat even more than usual, and I figured that the last thing my dinner party needed was an enormous pregnant woman with a case of the flop sweats. It turned out, though, that that was not the last thing my dinner party needed. The last thing my dinner party needed was what actually happened: an hour after he left, Tom called from a pay phone to tell me to go ahead without him, he wasn’t coming back, he didn’t have the mustard, and oh, by the way, he was in love with somebody else.

Fabulous quotes:

‘It doesn’t interfere with the act itself,’ she said. ‘It’s just, I’m suspicious of men with big penises.’
‘How come?’
‘I think it’s hard for them to be faithful, because they keep wanting to show it to people.’
I considered this for a moment. ‘It’s like having a really great car that you can only drive on a closed track,’ I said.
‘And men like other people to see their cars. That one fact explains the entire city of Los Angeles. So for a man to have a really big penis and settle down with just one woman goes completely against his nature. Doubly against it.’
‘Maybe we should look for men with such tiny penises that they’re ashamed of them,’ I said.
‘Even men with tiny penises aren’t ashamed of them,’ said Cordelia. ‘God knows they should be, but they never are.’

I shared an office with Matt, the music editor, and Olivia, the sex columnist. When I walked in, Olivia was at her desk, sorting through a big pile of mail from her readers. She picked up a letter written on pale blue stationery and fluttered it open and began to read it out loud.
‘Dear Olivia. After months of ashtanga yoga, I have managed to develop enough flexibility in my spine and neck to be able to gratify myself orally. While understandably pleased with this development, I am worried about sexually transmitted diseases and want to know if it is possible for a person to get AIDS from themselves.’
Olivia looked up at me and tilted her head expectantly.
‘Something is seriously wrong with the state of public health education in this country,’ I said.

Also recommended: She’s Got Issues by Stephanie Lessing; Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella; Getting Over Jack Wagner by Elise Juska.

Also by this author: The Big Love is Dunn’s first novel.

Fun tidbit: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is Dunn’s favourite novel. Also included in her list of recommended reading at the back of her book: Possession by A.S. Byatt; A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway; High Fidelity by Nick Hornby; and, of course, the bible of chick-lit, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.

Would I read more by this author? Yes. It’s getting harder to find books that still feel fresh and original in the chick-lit genre, but Dunn pulls it off.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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