The Man of My Dreams

The Man of My Dreams

3.6 50
by Curtis Sittenfeld
     
 

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"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… See more details below

Overview

"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, Hanna 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 misbehaviour 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 know yet whether she'll find the courage to go after it.

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Editorial Reviews

Claire Dederer
Prep rode to its wild success on the impression that Sittenfeld, a prep school teacher, was spilling some beans. By stepping outside that dynamic, Sittenfeld has surrendered an easy advantage. I admire that sacrifice. The Man of My Dreams reads like the next necessary step in a serious career.
— The New York Times
Stephen McCauley
Sittenfeld writes in crisp, vigorous prose that frequently rises to eloquence. She's especially good at describing what it feels like to be the outsider in a group. Hannah steps into a car and "is bombarded with music and cigarette smoke and the creamy, perfumed smell of girls who take better care of themselves than she does." Out of jealousy, Hannah intentionally provokes her more appealing and sought after sister, and then "sits there in the hideous, quiet aftermath of her own hostility."
— The Washington Post
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." 12-city author tour. (May 16) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following up on her successful debut novel, Prep, Sittenfeld once again addresses themes of adolescence and identity. With a sure voice, she details the experiences of Hannah Gavener, from age 14 in 1991 to age 28 in 2005. Hannah begins her tale while in temporary exile in Philadelphia with her aunt Elizabeth after her father has broken up his marriage and family. She can handle her father's having thrown everyone out of the house in the middle of the night, but she is thrown into confusion over her browbeaten mother's decision to end years of emotional abuse. With her emotional moorings undercut and replaced with a pervading sense of uncertainty, Hannah begins her college years as a hermit but soon enters the world of hook-ups and crushes after she is befriended by Jenny and challenged by free-spirit cousin Fig. Eventually, she gathers enough courage to cut her ties with her father, but gaining enough experience to let go of the bitterness requires encounters with Ted, Elliott, Mike, Henry, and Oliver. Hannah's wry wit and unsentimental self-understanding make her story compelling. Sittenfeld gives her a voice that is serious without being mordant, hopeful without being flighty. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., N.C. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Prep (2005) goes a second round, to report on the romantic misadventures of a hapless, often clueless, young woman. When it comes to love, Hannah Gavener is a late-bloomer. She's in college before she goes on her first date, and she accepts the advances of the first young man to approach her not because she's attracted to him but because she's too surprised to say no. Thus, the slightly too-sensitive Mike is her introduction to the often disappointing, always confounding world of couplehood. Next up is Oliver, a charming Kiwi who is quite incapable of fidelity. And then there's Henry. After one conversation, Hannah is convinced that Henry is her soulmate. Years pass, and they lose touch, but when they meet up again, Henry talks Hannah into moving to Chicago, where he lives. She soon discovers, though, that Henry failed to mention his girlfriend. Still, she knows that she and Henry are meant to be together, so she settles into a lopsided, torturous non-relationship, one that could have continued interminably if not for the unplanned pregnancy of Henry's girlfriend. This bit of reality jolts Hannah from her obsession and propels her on a course of self-fulfillment, which she finds not with the man of her dreams but as a teacher at a school for autistic boys. That Hannah's happy ending is a rewarding job rather than a Prince Charming is a refreshing departure from the romantic resolution offered by most fiction written about and for young women, and it's to Sittenfeld's credit that she refrains from giving her heroine a makeover or putting her on a diet. Nevertheless, this novel doesn't quite satisfy. Sittenfeld seldom delves below the surface of the action, and everything thathappens in Chicago is narrated as a letter by Hannah to her therapist. It's a distilled, distant version of events, almost as if Sittenfeld was loath to dwell on this embarrassing episode in her heroine's life. As a psychological matter, this is understandable-Hannah really is a world-class sap where Henry is concerned-but, at the formal level, it's disappointing. An earnest, if somewhat underdeveloped, antidote to chick-lit.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786288304
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
08/02/2006
Series:
Thorndike Americana Ser.
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Pages:
380
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Man of My Dreams


By Curtis Sittenfeld

Random House

Curtis Sittenfeld
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400064767


Chapter One

1 June 1991

julia roberts is getting married. It's true: Her dress will be an eight-thousand-dollar custom-made two-piece gown from the Tyler Trafficante West Hollywood salon, and at the reception following the ceremony, she'll be able to pull off the train and the long part of the skirt to dance. The bridesmaids' dresses will be sea-foam green, and their shoes (Manolo Blahnik, $425 a pair) will be dyed to match. The bridesmaids themselves will be Julia's agents (she has two), her makeup artist, and a friend who's also an actress, though no one has ever heard of her. The cake will be four-tiered, with violets and sea-foam ribbons of icing.

"What I want to know is where's our invitation?" Elizabeth says. "Did it get lost in the mail?" Elizabeth--Hannah's aunt--is standing by the bed folding laundry while Hannah sits on the floor, reading aloud from the magazine. "And who's her fiance again?"

"Kiefer Sutherland," Hannah says. "They met on the set of Flatliners."

"Is he cute?"

"He's okay." Actually, he is cute--he has blond stubble and, even better, one blue eye and one green eye--but Hannah is reluctant to reveal her taste; maybe it's bad.

"Let's see him," Elizabeth says, and Hannah holds up the magazine. "Ehh," Elizabeth says. "He's adequate." Thismakes Hannah think of Darrach. Hannah arrived in Pittsburgh a week ago, while Darrach--he is Elizabeth's husband, Hannah's uncle--was on the road. The evening Darrach got home, after Hannah set the table for dinner and prepared the salad, Darrach said, "You must stay with us forever, Hannah." Also that night, Darrach yelled from the second-floor bathroom, "Elizabeth, this place is a bloody disaster. Hannah will think we're barn animals." He proceeded to get on his knees and start scrubbing. Yes, the tub was grimy, but Hannah couldn't believe it. She has never seen her own father wipe a counter, change a sheet, or take out trash. And here was Darrach on the floor after he'd just returned from seventeen hours of driving. But the thing about Darrach is--he's ugly. He's really ugly. His teeth are brownish and angled in all directions, and he has wild eyebrows, long and wiry and as wayward as his teeth, and he has a tiny ponytail. He's tall and lanky and his accent is nice--he's from Ireland--but still. If Elizabeth considers Kiefer Sutherland only adequate, what does she think of her own husband?

"You know what let's do?" Elizabeth says. She is holding up two socks, both white but clearly different lengths. She shrugs, seemingly to herself, then rolls the socks into a ball and tosses them toward the folded pile. "Let's have a party for Julia. Wedding cake, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. We'll toast to her happiness. Sparkling cider for all."

Hannah watches Elizabeth.

"What?" Elizabeth says. "You don't like the idea? I know Julia herself won't show up."

"Oh," Hannah says. "Okay."

When Elizabeth laughs, she opens her mouth so wide that the fillings in her molars are visible. "Hannah," she says, "I'm not nuts. I realize a celebrity won't come to my house just because I invited her."

"I didn't think that," Hannah says. "I knew what you meant." But this is not entirely true; Hannah cannot completely read her aunt. Elizabeth has always been a presence in Hannah's life-- Hannah has a memory of herself at age six, riding in the backseat of Elizabeth's car as Elizabeth sang "You're So Vain" quite loudly and enthusiastically along with the radio--but for the most part, Elizabeth has been a distant presence. Though Hannah's father and Elizabeth are each other's only siblings, their two families have not gotten together in years. Staying now in Elizabeth's house, Hannah realizes how little she knows of her aunt. The primary information she has always associated with Elizabeth was acquired so long ago she cannot even remember learning it: that once, soon after Elizabeth became a nurse, a patient left her a great deal of money and Elizabeth squandered it. She spent it on an enormous party, though there was no occasion, not even her birthday. And she's been struggling to make ends meet ever since. (Hannah has been surprised to find, however, that her aunt orders takeout, usually Chinese, on the nights Darrach is gone, which is at least half the time. They don't exactly act like they're struggling to make ends meet.) It didn't help, financially speaking, that Elizabeth married a truck driver: the Irish hippie, as Hannah's father calls him. When she was nine, Hannah asked her mother what hippie meant, and her mother said, "It's someone fond of the counterculture." When Hannah asked her sister--Allison is three years older--she said, "It means Darrach doesn't take showers," which Hannah has observed to be untrue.

"Would we have our party before or after the wedding?" Hannah asks. "She gets married on June fourteenth." Then, imagining it must appear on the invitations like this, all spelled out in swirly writing, she adds, "Nineteen hundred and ninety-one."

"Why not on the fourteenth? Darrach can be my date, if he's here, and Rory can be yours."

Hannah feels a stab of disappointment. Of course her date will be her eight-year-old retarded cousin. (That's the final piece in the puzzle of Elizabeth's financial downfall, according to Hannah's father: that Rory was born with Down's. The day of Rory's birth, her father said to her mother, as he stood in the kitchen after work flipping through mail, "They'll be supporting that child all the way to their graves.") But what did Hannah think Elizabeth was going to say? Your date will be the sixteen-year-old son of one of my coworkers. He is very handsome, and he'll like you immediately. Sure, Hannah expected that. She always thinks a boy for her to love will fall from the sky.

"I wish I could find my wedding dress for you to wear at our party," Elizabeth says. "I wouldn't be able to fit my big toe in it at this point, but you'd look real cute. Lord only knows what I did with it, though."

How can Elizabeth not know where her wedding dress is? That's not like losing a scarf. Back in Philadelphia, Hannah's mother's wedding dress is stored in the attic in a long padded box, like a coffin.

"I gotta put the other load in the dryer," Elizabeth says. "Coming?"

Hannah stands, still holding the magazine. "Kiefer bought her a tattoo," she says. "It's a red heart with the Chinese symbol that means 'strength of heart.' "

"In other words," Elizabeth says, "he said to her, 'As a sign of my love, you get to be poked repeatedly by a needle with ink in it.' Do we really trust this guy?" They are on the first floor, cutting through the kitchen to the basement steps. "And do I dare ask where the tattoo is located?"

"It's on her left shoulder. Darrach doesn't have any tattoos, does he? Even though that's, like, a stereotype of truck drivers?" Is this a rude question?

"None he's told me about," Elizabeth says. She appears unoffended. "Then again, most truck drivers probably aren't tofu eaters or yoga fanatics."

Yesterday Darrach showed Hannah his rig, which he keeps in the driveway; the trailers he uses are owned by the companies he drives for. Darrach's current route is from here in Pittsburgh, where he picks up axles, to Crowley, Louisiana, where he delivers the axles and picks up sugar, to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he delivers the sugar and picks up women's slips to bring back to Pittsburgh. The other night Darrach let Rory demonstrate how to turn the front seat around to get in the sleeper cab. Then Darrach pointed out the bunk where he meditates. During this tour, Rory was giddy. "It's my dad's," he told Hannah several times, gesturing widely. Apparently, the rig is one of Rory's obsessions; the other is his bus driver's new puppy. Rory has not actually seen the puppy, but discussion is under way about Elizabeth taking Rory this weekend to visit the bus driver's farm. Watching her cousin in the rig, Hannah wondered if his adoration of his parents would remain pure. Perhaps his Down's will freeze their love.

After Elizabeth has moved the wet clothes into the dryer, they climb the basement steps. In the living room, Elizabeth flings herself onto the couch, sets her feet on the table, and sighs noisily. "So what's our plan?" she says. "Darrach and Rory shouldn't be back from errands for at least an hour. I'm taking suggestions."

"We could go for a walk," Hannah says. "I don't know." She glances out the living room window, which overlooks the front yard. The truth is that Hannah finds the neighborhood creepy. Where her family lives, outside Philadelphia, the houses are separated by wide lawns, the driveways are long and curved, and the front doors are flanked by Doric columns. Here, there are no front porches, only stoops flecked with mica, and when you sit outside--the last few nights, Hannah and Elizabeth have gone out there while Rory tried to catch fireflies--you can hear the televisions in other houses. The grass is dry, beagles bark into the night, and in the afternoon, pale ten-year-old boys in tank tops pedal their bikes in circles, the way they do on TV in the background when some well-coiffed reporter is standing in front of the crime scene where a seventy-six-year-old woman has been murdered.

"A walk's not a bad idea," Elizabeth says, "except it's so damn hot."

Then the living room, the whole house actually, is quiet except for the laundry rolling around downstairs in the dryer. Hannah can hear the ping of metal buttons against the sides of the machine.

"Let's get ice cream," Elizabeth says. "But don't bring the magazine." She grins at Hannah. "I don't know how much more celebrity happiness I can take."

hannah was shipped to Pittsburgh. She was sent away, put on a Greyhound, though Allison got to stay in Philadelphia with their mother because of exams. Hannah thinks she should still be in Philadelphia for the same reason--because of exams. But Hannah is in eighth grade, whereas Allison is a high school junior, which apparently means that her exams matter more. Also, Hannah is viewed by their parents as not just younger but less even-keeled, and therefore potentially inconvenient. So Hannah's school year isn't even finished, but she is here with Elizabeth and Darrach indefinitely.


Excerpted from The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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