The Man of My Dreams
Some people live their lives silently saying to others, “You have no idea who I am.” And some people have no flipping clue how valuable they are. In Curtis Sittenfeld’s cherry-popping Prep, we met the almost unlikable high-schooler and queen of self-doubt Lee. By the end of Prep, you hope college offers enough distraction for Lee to get comfortable in her own skin. Sittenfeld’s sophomore effort, The Man of My Dreams, is just as grounded in a girl’s head. Only this time the girl is Hannah and the years add up.
Hannah is 14 at the novel’s start and in her post-college 20s when it ends. The vignettes of Hannah’s life, told in chapters that skip forward a few years, make up a maybe not profound as much as thoughtful story of growing up less than satisfied. Hannah is from an upper-middle-class, abusive home—Dad is an angry control freak—and after her mom leaves her father she gets displaced for a bit and stays with her aunt.
In her seemingly abundant free time, she remembers the ugly scenes of her father’s irrational behavior—like when he refused to pick up the pizza because her older sister warned him about a pedestrian—and worries she has gained weight. Moments like these illustrate the absolute priority of an insecure young woman’s mental world.
Hannah goes to college and ends up with a single dorm room in one of those relief situations that end up being fatal to her social life. She loves it and hates it and needs friends. She falls in “Man of Her Dreams” love with her cousin Fig’s boyfriend, lets her pops know what she thinks of him by refusing to eat raviolis at lunch and ends up cut off from his monetary support, and finds a boyfriend at the financial aid office.
The novel is filled with relatable and sometimes tragic scenes, like when Hannah doesn’t like the sleeping arrangements on a trip to Alaska with her sister Allison: “and there is a silence during which it occurs to Hannah that she has the unpleasant power to ruin this vacation for everyone just by being herself.” By telling the story from Hannah’s perspective yet keeping it third person, Sittenfeld creates painful scenes that make for addictive reading, but avoids preciousness and pity parties.
Like her sister Allison says in so many words, Hannah often just chooses to wallow in shit most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you dislike her. The Man of My Dreams reads quick because you want to see where Hannah goes. She does, too, and that moves this novel from coming-of-age story into depth and sincerity.