Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Great Husband Hunt by Lauren Graham

Several years ago I had the good fortune to live in Japan, which was great. However, one of the few things I really missed was good bookstores.  We lived on a military base, and the selection at the BX was pretty much limited to bestselling mass-market paperbacks and whatever Oprah was currently recommending.  And the library's collection was a little sad (too bad I hadn't gotten into classics yet, I could've finished the entire works of Dickens). 

Of course there was online shopping, but there's something so wonderful about just discovering an intriguing book.  So the result was that I became a book hoarder.  Any trade paperback I saw at the BX was snatched up, no matter what; I had to buy them right away, because next time they'd be gone.  So I ended up with a lot of books I might not have tried otherwise, and many of those books are still waiting to be read,  like The Great Husband Hunt, which was definitely an impulse purchase.  I finally grabbed it off the shelf the other day because I felt the urge for a light, quick read, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I was convinced this book was going to be fluffy chick lit (and I admit I have read my share).  I wouldn't classify with Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin (i.e., young singleton moves to the big city, works in publishing and finds a man to love her) but it's definitely not a heavy literary read.  There's enough substance here to merit consideration for a book discussion group (which I'm sure the publishers intended as they were thoughtful enough to include a Reader's Guide in the back).  Basically, this book spans most of the 20th century and is the story of Poppy Minkel, a young mustard heiress.  It starts in 1912, when Poppy's father dies on the Titanic.  The first line of the book is pretty intriguing: 

It was just as well I had ripped off my Ear Correcting Bandages.  Had I been bound up in my usual bedtime torture-wear, I would never have heard my mother's screams.

Fifteen-year old Poppy's ears are bound up nightly by her mother, one of many procedures she suffers in the hopes that she will actually catch a husband someday and not end up an Old Maid.  Poppy is the ugly duckling of the family, and spends her youth disappointing her mother and overly critical aunt.  Her life perks up when the U.S. is pulled into the Great War and everyone needs to do their part.  Poppy finally gets out of her sheltered New York apartment and gets a taste of what life is like.  When she comes into her inheritance at twenty-one, life really begins -- the roaring 20s, Prohibition, living as an ex-pat in Europe, and then the outbreak of WWII.  The story ends up in the 1970s, when she retires.

I found myself quite enjoying this book.  Parts of it are pretty funny, and I liked reading about life during the wars and Prohibition -- needless to say, it's pretty sanitized because Poppy isn't really exposed to the harsh realities of life for most people at that time.  But it was kind of fun to read about her life once she took control of her own life.  I was expecting more about her search for a husband, that's only a small part of the book. 

My biggest complaint is that Poppy doesn't really develop very much as a character -- she's pretty selfish and is a terrible parent.  She is pretty spunky and doesn't seem to give up, despite some of the setbacks she endures, and she's clever enough to reinvent herself.  (The author's notes mention that Poppy was very loosely based on heiresses Barbara Hutton and Peggy Guggenheim.)  However, it was interesting enough for me to finish and recommend with reservations.  It isn't great literature, and it isn't for everyone, but it wouldn't be a bad book on a long flight or by the beach.  It's definitely a step up from a lot of summer reads. 

4 comments:

  1. This cover still kills me. :D

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  2. It's pretty funny. The publisher put colorized photos on some of her other books too, must be from the 40s or 50s. Kind of catchy. Well, at least it isn't a cartoon of a skinny girl or someone's legs -- that's a dead giveaway it's chick lit.

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  3. So she is single by the end of the book? That's so rare in chick-litish books as is the 20s setting (though I think that's coming more into fashion now).

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  4. Jodie -- SPOILER (just in case): She's a widow at the end of the book, but seems happy.

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