three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TheManOfMyDreamsNews of Julia Roberts’s engagement to Kiefer Sutherland in 1991 causes great excitement for 14-year-old Hannah Gavener, perhaps because her life is not nearly quite so thrilling. In fact, it becomes downright depressing when her mother finally stands up for herself and whisks Hannah and her sister away from their controlling father. Five years later, Hannah, now an accommodating but socially and sexually naïve freshman at Tufts University, still has father issues. Even after college, Hannah fantasizes about romance and endures one relationship after the other, all the while trying to reconcile the idea of "living happily ever after" with life’s realities.
Random House. 288 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 1400064767

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The exciting thing about Sittenfeld, aside from her remarkably lucid, incisive prose, is that she has the potential to carve out a new place, based largely on the strength of that prose, for every woman who wants to write (or read) good fiction about growing up and messing up—just the way the boys do—without being issued a stigma and a cutesy cover." Michelle Orange

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Following Hannah through college and out into the singles world, Sittenfeld fastidiously prepares slides of young love’s infinite nuances, then examines them through the ruthless lens of her microscope. … Her eye for the tiny, obsessive detail … goes a long way in the book’s circumscribed landscape." Tricia Springstubb

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hannah’s fear of intimacy and fixation on Henry feel real, but her resulting behavior—cold and frequently abrasive—makes her hard to like. Her outsider status gives her a beautifully described sensitivity to the gestures and inflections of herself and others, but she lacks a sense of humor when it comes to her own flaws and foibles." Stephen McCauley

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The milieu feels, in fact, a lot like a Peanuts strip: generic houses, trees, armchairs, all as a backdrop to the main character’s tragicomic angst. … But Sittenfeld proves herself once again to be a rigorous and wily stylist." Claire Dederer

South FL Sun-Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"Sittenfeld writes in a third-person so subtle it almost tricks you into thinking Hannah is narrating. … The structure of a novel, however, also doesn’t exist to accommodate its author, especially when she chooses to conclude with an epistolary epilogue that smacks of laziness, a creative breakdown, or both." Phoebe Flowers

Philadelphia Inquirer 1 of 5 Stars
"It’s not that the reader can’t sympathize when Hannah makes mistakes—and she makes some big ones, like allowing an older man to get her drunk at an office party, and letting a sex addict convince her that his side dalliances have no impact on their relationship. But she doesn’t learn from them, and the repetition is grating." Jen A. Miller

Critical Summary

Prep ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005), Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, explored a girl’s coming-of-age at an elite high school. The Man of My Dreams contains the same intelligence and insight into teenage (and 20-something) life, but critics generally agree that, despite its superb writing, it’s a less powerful novel. Supporters praise Sittenfeld’s ability to delve deep inside the "outsider" mind and reveal the pain of intimacy and desire. Detractors cite stock characters, a hackneyed plot about personal growth, and a hokey ending. "The legions of readers who loved Prep will most likely not flock to this quiet novel," writes the New York Times Book Review. "But Sittenfeld’s determined exploration of her character’s interior life feels like bravery."