Adriane on the Edge
It was only a matter of time before male writers decided to cash in on the ongoing “chick lit” trend, and Adriane on the Edge is Baltimore expat Paul Mandelbaum’s first foray into the genre. Built around a minor character from his debut novel-in-stories, Garrett in Wedlock, Adriane on the Edge is a harmless, fast-paced beach read about the twentysomething trials and tribulations of Adriane Gelki, a young urban professional who adopts a stray dog, learns how to play Thelonious Monk classics on her inherited piano, suffers through several dead-end boyfriends, and finds herself at a New Year’s Eve meeting of the Baltimore Polyamory Society, all in a misguided and disjointed attempt to overcome the loss of her deceased dysfunctional parents.
Misguided, because many of Adriane’s adventures are things that any savvy young single woman in Baltimore would never do, for fear of bodily harm—like walking her dog downtown after dark, or accepting an invitation to a complete stranger’s apartment for a caper tasting. Disjointed, because, though it’s billed as a novel-in-stories, Adriane reads more like a series of half-finished chapters, abandoning characters and plot threads at random as it gallops toward a completely unexpected and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. Tantalizing signs of forward momentum, like Adriane’s vow to confront a man who holds her up at gunpoint while she plays piano in a dive bar, are dropped in favor of the next wacky first date, fibroid tumor, or workplace mishap. The only constant, Adriane’s relationship with her stray dog Barry, humanizes her to some extent, but it’s not strong enough to support the character’s entire identity—you find yourself wondering why this character felt special enough to warrant her own novel.
There’s little to quibble with in Mandelbaum’s execution—it’s easy to picture Adriane in any of the situations he describes, but difficult to understand why he’s chosen to write about them. Her life is merely amusing where it should be hilarious, and vaguely pitiful where it should be thought-provoking. We all know someone like Adriane—she’s the hapless yuppie friend who equates romantic success with personal growth, and has trouble saying no to almost anyone, all while soliciting and ignoring advice from her equally clueless Sex and the City cadre of friends. In short, you’ll relate, but you won’t want to celebrate.