Review of Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Well, after an unintended extended break, let’s see if I can remember how to write a book review! ha.

Blurb: Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every SaturdayWith a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life.

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called the Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman.

Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right?

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.

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When a novel is called “Romantic Comedy” as is Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, a recommendation from the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, you can almost guarantee that it’s not going to be a straight-up romantic comedy but rather an homage or a parody. Sittenfeld’s, I suspect, is intended to be an homage while also examining the fantasy of romance versus real life. And, if I were still a graduate student studying literature, I would note the extreme amounts of fecal material presented and discussed in this book and wonder what it all means–that is, presuming it means anything other than the fact that life and jokes involve an awful lot of excrement. To presume that it is a symbolism for romantic comedy would be far too harsh of an indictment of the genre, so hopefully not intended.

Sally Milz (email: SMilz@xxx = Smiles@xxx) has been a comedy writer for a late night Saturday sketch comedy show for nine years. She’s an average-looking divorced woman of 36, who has an acquaintance-with-benefits, and a cat. Her life for most of the year revolves around a job she loves.

Part of being a successful writer is observing human nature and Sally notices that the male writers on the show score dates and sometimes marriage with women (actresses, singers) way out of their league. She even writes a sketch based on this observation about her office mate and co-writer called the Danny Horst Rule. As well, she claims that an average looking female writer would never attract the attention of a smoking hot man until singer Noah Brewster appears on the show and the two seemingly hit it off until Sally does what she does best: gets in her own way and destroys any chance for furthering their romance as a result of a snarky joke that is more insult than joke.

Romantic Comedy is told in three sections. The first, an in-depth view of what it’s like to write and be involved in a weekly comedy sketch show, is my absolute favorite. We see the writers in action, trying to come up with sketches that will actually make it onto the show. We see Sally interact with her friends, Noah, Danny, and even the head writer that she was once so infatuated with and who broke her heart. All of this is rapid and sharp and sets a tone that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if the jokes left something to be desired.

And then we have the pandemic. Someone cue the needle screeching to a halt on a vinyl record, please.

In the second section, epistolary if you will, we see Sally and Noah attempt via emails to have a second chance at what Sally squashed when she joked Noah only dated models. For the first few emails, the stories told and inner lives revealed were intriguing, illuminating, vulnerable. And then it became boring, especially after the first section. Yes, I recognize that this exemplifies what actually occurred when the pandemic hit. Life shut down. People communicated any way they could. They examined their lives and perhaps reached out for second chances. And while I get that, I don’t want to read still-life for all that long. Noah is a nice guy and Sally is a nice woman. It’s like paint drying.

Enter section three. The meet up. One thing I want to mention is that this is the third novel I’ve read about how the “haves” spent the pandemic. Live-in help who cooked and cleaned. A pool to recline by for many months out of the year. A private jet for excursions. And it’s here in Noah’s big, little world that they fall in love. What I liked best about this section is Sally’s humanness–although the whole obsession about what toilet she was going to use is beyond me. Are people in new relationships really like that these days? I guess it is indeed the age of social media and superficial appearances. Suffice to say so that I don’t give too much of the story away, that a situation arises and Noah has the opportunity to not only show that he can use his money, but that he is the ultimate nice guy, handy, considerate, resourceful. What is not to love?

Well, I didn’t love Romantic Comedy. I was sure as I was reading the first section that I would. It was frenetic and fascinating and full of life. And, then the pandemic happened.

It’s interesting to consider the fantasy of the superstar falling into love with an average person but then the fantasy crumbles as the superstar is revealed to be an average person who has talent but more than that was in the right place at the right time. The superstar, alas, is human with foibles and bad habits and secrets that are kept close to the vest that display his humanness. And with all of that humanness, how can a fantasy continue? Just like the end of the honeymoon period in marriage/relationships.

Unfortunately, Romantic Comedy‘s one big failing for me was the lack of comedy. Granted, many romantic comedies are just not that funny, but they do tend to be funnier than this, which just goes to prove how very difficult it is to write something humorous. What makes romantic comedies succeed is chemistry and repartee and a gentle (sometimes slapstick, but not often) humor. There wasn’t much chemistry here nor repartee, at least not between Sally and Noah.

I am going to sit on the fence with this one. After a blazing beginning it became an average story about people who are average–as the majority of people tend to be. And I feel pretty–okay just a smidge above–average about it.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

3 thoughts on “Review of Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

    1. It is getting some pretty fabulous reviews but I just wasn’t feeling it, at least not to the extent of other readers. I do wonder what it would have been like if she’d kept up the momentum from the beginning and continued in that setting but perhaps then it would have been a real rom-com. 😀

      1. I think you can usually tell if you’re going to like a book from early on, and if you’re not feeling it, there’s not much you can do.

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