Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New in Paperback: Beginner’s Greek by James Collins

First in late 2007 when James Collins’ debut came out in hardcover and now that Beginner’s Greek (Back Bay Books) makes its way to my desk again in paper, I can’t help wondering: what’s with all the fuss?

Sure, the writing is somewhat sharp and the premise is slightly original but, for me, Collins’ contemporary comedy of manners never moves beyond the quirky. And quirky is fine -- even fun -- for a little while. But for a whole book? It just can’t help but get old. And it does.

Here’s the set up: 27-year-old Peter Russell falls in love with seatmate Holly Edwards on a flight between New York and L.A. But fate twists, and Peter loses Holly’s phone number. They get on with their lives, fall in love with other people, enjoy the usual ups and downs. Eventually they reconnect in order for us to come to a happy-ish ending.

Clearly, this is the stuff of which romantic comedies are made. Personally, I could never get past the vaguely 19th century echoes of Collins’ prose. You might not have that problem. When the book first came out, The New York Times’ James Kaplan called Beginner’s Greek “a great big sunny lemon chiffon pie of a novel.” Kaplan clearly likes lemon chiffon pie better than I do: it’s actually a very positive review.

If you, also, like lemon chiffon pie books and a plot that will remind you of one of the classic 1990s-style romantic comedies, then this one may well be for you.

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