(…with titular apologies to the Doors, New York City and Missouri)
Sally Milz is a sketch writer for a late-night comedy show called The Night Owls. (Think Saturday Night Live.) It has been her dream job since she splashed out $880 on a plane ticket to fly to New York to have an interview and she’s thrilled when she calls her husband to tell him she’s been offered the position. “It’s too bad you can’t do it,” he replies. “Why can’t I do it?” she asks. “Because we live in Charlotte.” She notes that “as my cab entered the Lincoln Tunnel, I thought to myself, Thank god we don’t have kids because that will make our divorce much less messy’.” They duly get divorced.
That was in 2009. When the book opens in 2018, Curtis Sittenfeld has her as a plain-looking workaholic with essentially no social life. Instead, she resents the fact that she knows a few plain-looking men who have somehow got hitched to fabulous-looking women, and she is hacked off that things like that never work the other way around. Indeed, she writes a skit on the subject. And then Noah Brewster, a “painfully handsome” pop star is booked as a celebrity guest for the show. Sally helps him with a script he’s working on. You can probably guess where this is heading?
The second section of the book chronicles the emails they exchange during the Covid-19 pandemic, a conversation initiated by Noah, with him living in Los Angeles and she in Kansas City, Missouri, “in my childhood bedroom…with my 81-year-old stepdad and his beagle Sugar”. For his part, Noah observes: “Aren’t we all just looking for someone to talk about everything with?” Pandemic over, she decides she will accept his invitation to go to stay at his LA home, taking two days to drive to his spectacular home in Topanga Canyon (which is shown on the home page) after promising herself she will leave after three days. Of the moment she arrives at his house, she says, “my decidedly inglorious first words were ‘Should I be wearing a mask?'”
My enjoyment of this third part was slightly enhanced by the previous book I had read being Jenny Boyd’s rock-chick autobiography (she was married to Mick Fleetwood) Jennifer Juniper, which also spends some time in that same LA location. Anyhow, Sally and Noah have a lot of spectacular sex, despite her ‘inglorious first words’, their nascent relationship narrowly survives a collision with a paparazzo, and then…well, if you want the ending you’ll have to read it.
The book is far from perfect but it is at times sexy, at times moving and at times very funny. (Having said that, the sketches Sally and her colleagues write, which form a major part of the narrative of the first section, hardly strike one as the sort of material that would make it on to the actual Saturday Night Live. You could think of this book as a US-based Notting Hill, although I doubt Julia Roberts and/or Hugh Grant will be considered for the parts of either of these 38-year-olds should this get made into a movie.