A motley group of four American women meet in Normandy on a tour of Emma Bovary sites, and against the odds stay in touch with each other after their low-grade tour is over. The one talisman that binds them – barely – is the trite and New Age-y Love Book, with its red binding and its exhortations to make oneself available to one’s soul mate by changing one’s “vibrations.”
I put this book aside several times while reading it, and moved on to other material, because I have an extremely tough time with the self-pity and angst of women having difficult love affairs. The men always seem to fit one stereotype or another: the beautiful and charming serial philanderer; the trying-to-be-suave number who is pathetically past his prime; the maladroit too-eager nerd in the sweater vest. This novel chronicles the misadventures of the four women; the men are nearly all ghastly, the women confused and put-upon. I must say the men in particular are cardboard, and only rarely described as even visually interesting.
But: I honor Ms. Solomon’s attempt to throw the happy-love-affair convention on its ear. She distributes the Love Book in a comic, almost magical, way among the protagonists. She recounts its hopelessly naïve and silly instructions – and I think this is the point: the things we, especially women, are meant to believe about finding a “soul mate” are ridiculous – insanely counterproductive. This couldn’t be clearer from the book.
The frequent comic moments and the lack of a tidy wrap-up for Emily, the chief and most sympathetic of the four, struggle to outweigh the characters’ constant frustration and disappointment. They struggle, and they fail. Can’t recommend this one.