In a way, Howard’s novel follows a stylistic format similar to picaresque novels, namely how the hero faces a succession of wild, life changing events told in quick succession. However the novel’s protagonist Gavin is a far cry from the traditional picaresque, roguish hero. Gavin is essentially a soft touch, easily dominated by all he meets and knows, even his best friends. He is surrounded by dominant personalities who readily recognize his kindly, shy ways and are ready to take advantage of him. While he is portrayed as a likable hero, the reader can’t help but feel frustrated at the way Gavin is drawn into all of these various, crazy scenarios.
Though Gavin does hope to get things right in the management of his life, the dominance of everyone else arguably negates this attempt. Within a span of two weeks, he meets three women, all of whom are perplexingly strange. Like Gavin, all three are vulnerable, yet their respective simple, single-minded and at times destructive tendencies hold fast and easily dominate. Minerva and Julia play their own fantastical games, which are destructive not only to themselves, but have a far reaching negative presence as well. On the positive side, Julia initially plays a kind of Henry Higgins role with Gavin that does have a positive effect for him, since it gives him the confidence to pursue a similar Pygmalion role with his junior work apprentice Jenny. However, Jenny is the girl of the rolling eyes. She’s not very knowledgable, is insufferably naive, lacks sophistication, common sense and an independent initiative. At times, even Gavin is floored by her admissions and responses to his attempts at developing her appreciation for the fine arts. She is certainly not his intellectual or emotional equal, and based upon her portrayal, there is not much hope for any significant growth. By considering a potential relationship with her, he would effectively assume a childlike dependent who happens to have a child of her own.
Howard’s novel is meant to be a charming comedy. However, the characters and situations that are portrayed are too dark to be effectively balanced by the comedic lines that are interspersed throughout the novel. While the novel could interest readers who enjoy stories that chronicle atypical, psychological behaviors and relationships, and the lengths people will go to continue being a part of the “game,” readers seeking a light romantic comedy might be disappointed.
Copy provided by NetGalley