Love can be instant, sort of. Wanting to spend more time with someone after meeting them, or feeling indifferent if you don’t, is easy. The difficult thing, either way, is that options remain—all the experiences that lead you to that instantaneous moment when you are either open to each other or not take a long time, and they don’t mean that you won’t have another chance at love. First-time novelist Jami Attenberg’s Instant Love is composed of chronological vignettes that are relatable and precise. The scenes of wanting love and/or sex and/or distraction and/or companionship kill.
Sisters Maggie and Holly are the book's center. Backstory creeps in, and side characters, husbands, and boyfriends round out the core characters. Sparse illustrations by City Paper contributor Emily Flake are a refreshing addition not used enough in modern fiction.
Love opens with Holly slowly losing her first boyfriend over, what . . . a week or two? It seems so slow when you’re a teenager. Her low-rent boyfriend, Christian—who has “never even heard of her father,” a famous author—falls for a girl who has a way with makeup at the pharmacy where Holly works. “Look, what are you going to do with him anyway? Marry him?” Holly asks herself. As true as that sentiment is, it’s surely made to make the loss easier, and one most of us have uttered.
In the next chapter, “Sarah Lee Meets a Millionaire,” the loss of a love is almost instant. Over the first, tiny conversation at a Seattle party where everyone is stoned, Sarah Lee “took down her hair, played with her elastic. Now she was lovely, and excited by him.” She flirts but fails to catch the interest of the retired software millionaire, Danny. We read what her heart says in painful pleas as he walks away: “I should run after him. Throw him to the ground. Put my hand down his pants. Bite his ear. Give him honey kisses. Tickle his belly. Feed him pie.”
And the pattern is set: Each chapter takes the characters closer to finding what they want. The first date between Maggie and Robert is honestly wonderful in that so little—too many gin and tonics on an empty stomach in the middle of a crowded and loud tavern deck, boring story of what happened on the way to work—takes place between the two, yet it’s enough to tell her who he is. They end up married later in the book—and divorced.
These chapters could stand alone as short stories, but Attenberg draws personal lines that hold them together better than any theme could.