American Girls About Town
by Adriana Trigiani, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Manby, Lauren Weisberger, Claire LeZebnik, Cindy Chupack, Lauren Henderson, Juliana Baggott, Melissa Senate, Laura Wolf, Judi Hendricks, Sarah Mlynowski, Quinn Dalton, Nancy Sparling, Jill Smolinski, Lynda Curnyn, and Gretchen Laskas; contemporary (2004)
Pocket, 6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6106-1


Well, the chick-lit charity anthology series decide to move on from Europe to America, this time with 1.00 from the sales of this book going to be divided equally between Barnardo's in the UK and the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the US. Using the currency converter, this translates to around a dollar per book going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation provided you buy the UK edition of this book. Nowhere have I seen any mention of the charity thing on the US Downtown edition. Maybe Dubya has declared that Rich Old-Moneyed Republicans are now recognized as a charity while I'm too busy counting the pennies I've saved in my piggy bank.

I wonder whether they probably can't find too many Red Dress Ink and other American mainstream authors to contribute because there are some British authors here who get to participate because they spend a few months every year in America. Whatever it is, this book does show a marked difference from the Euro-centric oriented previous anthologies in this series. American authors don't do that malicious, bitchy thing. When they try to imitate Bridget Jones too closely, they make their heroines pathetically neurotic without one drip of wit to redeem these heroines. It is when the authors do their own thing and kick Bridget to the curb where she belongs that this anthology shines. Luckily, this happens often enough.

Jennifer Weiner kicks off the party with a story I absolutely loathe. The Truth About Nigel is the story of an idiot woman who is so desperate to marry a man - any man! - that she wears her desperation like a stench. I am talking about a woman, who upon meeting a man, starts making wedding plans with him even when she doesn't know anything about him. Maybe Ms Weiner calls that kind of heroine "adorable". I call those heroines "pathetic". This story about a heroine falling for a colleague who turns out to be not who he claims to be only to find love one more time with another guy - without learning much in the process - is as fun as getting all my teeth pulled out with a pair of pliers without anesthesia.

Thankfully Claire LaZebnick makes up for the awful party-pooping Jennifer Weiner story with her Leaving A Light On. It starts off as a story of lonely woman seeking to escape the tedious routine of her life by drinking and having fun in a singles' bar. She picks up a married man for what seems like a meaningless one-night stand but there is more than meets the eye in this story. While the ending can be considered amusing, there is always an underlying melancholy in this story that makes it a bittersweet read. Cindy Chupack, who needs a new TV show to write for and executive produce now that Sex In The City has had its last bang of the night, offers Moving Day, where a woman tries to deal with the recent break-up of her relationship as she waits for her ex to come in and move his things out of the apartment they used to share. This story has some clumsy spots in its narration and scene-transition but it packs a powerful punch in delivering a realistic soliloquoy on the pain of watching a relationship crumble without being able to do anything about it. It's just unfortunate that this story is too short and ends on an uncertain note, leaving me feeling like a someone who has just been stranded on a deserted island while the boat pulls away.

Lauren Henderson's Yoga Babe is an amusing but throwaway tale of a self-absorbed young woman's day at a popular yoga center. This is the closest to a bitchy novella in this story but somehow the claws are partially retracted. Adriana Trigiani, the headlining author of this anthology, offers My Great Brit Book Tour where a "midlist" author heads off to Great Britain on a promotional book tour. I don't know how many "midlist" authors, like the heroine claims herself to be, have their publishers sending them abroad to do TV shows but I guess authors have the right to dream and sell those dreams to their readers. The tour is filled with amusing pitfalls and unforeseen circumstances but at the end of the day, everything ends well on an uplifting note. I like this one but a part of me can't help expecting more from Ms Trigiani. Maybe I should read her full-length book instead.

I love stories of soul-searching and I absolutely adore Juliana Baggott's Five, which is like the movie The Bangers Sisters minus the tawdry sentimental melodrama of the movie. The heroine leaves her latest husband because she doesn't believe that she can be tied down in one spot, visits her sister who is her polar opposite, and learns something about love and relationships despite her obstinacy. The heroine feels very real in this story and her soul-searching is nicely done without too much sentimental moments attached to it. I am a little frustrated at how the story ends without the heroine making a decision on what she wants to do next but I don't think I want this story to end in any other way. Everything feels perfect as it is.

Melissa Senate offers Voodoo Dolls, C-Cups And Eminem. A big thank-you to whoever comes up with this title for having the title spoil the story for me. This tale of a recently engaged woman received voodoo dolls and other nasty stuff designed to make her break off her engagement is often amusing but like I've said, the title of this story gives away the identity of the culprit. Thanks a bunch! Lauren Weisberger's The Bamboo Confessions proves that only a chick-lit heroine would be stupid enough to waste money on a trip to Vietnam, bitch about it all the way to the end, only to learn that her very obvious Mr Wrong is not her Prince Charming. Won't it be cheaper to buy a pen and paper to write a Dear John letter instead? But ah, I guess we can't all be blessed with brains. The heroine of this novella seems to be in need of that blessing more than most, though.

Laura Wolf's Amore, a tale of a woman determined to date and sleep with only non-American men because she hopes to maybe marry one of them and move to another country to escape her life as she knows it, could have been an interesting story if it's longer because the heroine is a multifaceted, sometimes even tragically misguided creature but a sympathetic one nonetheless because I understand what it's like to want to get away from a middle-class existence that feels more suffocating day by day. But Ms Wolf opts for a quick "shocker" resolution that nearly ruins everything about this story. I find myself wanting to know more about the complicated heroine who sabotages her relationships the moment the men become too familiar and hence less exotic in her eyes. Maybe this story would work better with me if it's longer to allow Ms Wolf to develop the heroine better as a character.

It's back to Neurotic Clueless Bridget Clones I'd Love To Choke To Death moments with Judi Hendricks' Andromeda On The Street Of Ducklings, where it's moan and whine and groan time from a heroine who tries way too hard to be a Bridget Clone. Minus the wit or the humor. Bring on the euthanasia brigade! Chris Manby's Bad Manners is on the other hand a story that manages to deliver a few knocks or two. Her story about a woman in a relationship where she is forced to conform to meet the requirements of a man that mocks her constantly doesn't come off as a painful Bridget Clone story as much as it is a character study of a woman who sometimes should know better, sometimes does, sometimes doesn't, but at the same time well-written enough to be real. I can't really make my way through one of this author's full-length books but her short stories tend to work very well with me. Probably it's because her relentlessly self-destructive characters are easier to tolerate when taken in small doses, like in a short story form.

I can't finish Sarah Mlynowski's The Two-Month Itch. Why? Because it's written in second person, that's why. Yes, instead of "I" telling the story, it's "You". I really loathe stories where the author drags me screaming into her main characters' shoes. This isn't literary or artistic to me, this is the author reaching out from the pages of the book to grab my throat with her hands and choke me while screaming at my face, "See? This is you! You want to be my heroine! You love my story because you want it to be about you!" And you know what? The last time I dreamed that I was Bridget Jones, I woke up screaming in terror and had a high fever for the next two days because the nightmare was simply terrifying. For the sake of my sanity, the moment I know where this Bridget Clone story is heading, I give a soft scream and quickly move on to the next story.

Quinn Dalton's I Know A Woman is all about a woman's delusions set up as a self-defense mechanism when her marriage crumbles. I like this story. It's more disheartening and cynical than happy but the raw hurt the heroine is feeling in this story gets to me. Nancy Sparling ruins my mood with Just Visiting, where a Bridget Clone moved to the UK from the US after her aborted near-wedding a few months ago. She lies about how well she is doing in London so when her relatives drop by for a visit, she bankrupts herself to keep up with the masquerade. And she is rewarded for her stupidity. Hmm, that reminds me, I've yet to meet my quota of at least one dead Bridget Clone a day today. Time to get my AK-47!

Jill Smolinski makes me feel better with Forty Days, a truly fun and adorable story of a woman who decides to live a little in the forty days before her fortieth birthday. I love the fact that her to-do list is filled with reasonable, practical wishes instead of nonsensical things Bridget Clones tend to wish for. She wants to sell a painting at eBay, skinny dip, date a cute guy at least once (she's a divorcee), and what do you know, she may find romance in the process of being a vibrant forty-year-old. I love the fact that the heroine is emminently rational about love versus lust, she doesn't do stupid things she will regret in the morning, and best of all, she is a wonderful narrator with a vibrant and engaging personality. This story is one of my favorites in the anthology.

By the time the Calamity Jane heroine encounters her... oh, I've lost count, but it's the latest in her many, many mishaps, Lynda Curnyn's The Uncertainty Principle has me wondering when all this pain will end. Gretchen Laskas' Small Worlds has the story of a woman moving across the country to sleep with a man she met over the Internet to - you'll love this - save her marriage. Naturally the man doesn't show up and she cries and wonders why. Hmm, I don't know. Let me guess: maybe because this supposedly wonderful Chad is actually a pimply thirteen-year old boy? Any woman stupid enough to travel on a plane to meet a man she meets over the Internet for a ridiculously short period of time deserves what she gets. Am I supposed to emphatize with this idiot heroine? Next time, I'd suggest that she just sleeps with the milkman.

The Bridget Clones stories aside, American Girls About Town is one of the better charity anthologies I've read because when it's good, I get variety in themes, storylines, and characters. When I think of it, this book has one kind of bad but several different kinds of wonderful going for it. While I won't go as far as to call this book a keeper, American Girls About Town delivers enough to give me a pleasant pick-me-up read when I need one.

Rating: 80


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