Patricia Marx is one of the finest comic writers of her time, as readers of The New Yorker and fans of Saturday Night Live already know. Her fiction debut is an endlessly entertaining comic novel about one woman's romantic fixation on her first boyfriend.
Marx's unabashedly neurotic heroine falls for philosopher Eugene Obello during her graduate school days in Cambridge, England. Why would anyone fall for a man who receives a grant to pursue Ego Studies? Why would that person remain obsessed, even after this guy marries and becomes a father? By "obsessed," we mean, well...sex and lusting and longing and hoping and waiting for this cad who is spread too thin. Her friends loathe him. Why can't she drop him? Is it because she was the only virgin on campus before she bumped into Eugene (a man who was hardly a virgin)? Is it because he kept a copy of the Magna Carta in his pocket? "You know what I think it really was?" she reflects. "He was a narcissist. I love narcissists...you don't have to buoy them up." When things get unbearable, our girl gives up trying to write her thesis -- and tries to give up on Eugene. She says good-bye to her dormitory room, decorated in a color she calls veal, and becomes a TV writer in New York on the hit sketch-comedy show Taped But Proud. Coincidentally, Eugene moves to New York as well -- to teach a seminar called "Toward a Philosophy of the Number Two" ("And if that goes well," he says, "they might let me have a go at the number three"). More years of lusting and longing, hoping and waiting. Until a spectacular event changes everything.
Marx's unnamed protagonist, a Baltimore native turned Cambridge University graduate student, is struggling with her thesis on West Indian immigration when she meets Eugene Obello, fresh from Princeton and at Cambridge on a philosophy teaching fellowship. Though he's self-absorbed, distracted and cheesy ("I will always feel a great deal of agape toward you, O my everlasting," he tells the narrator) she falls for him. But he soon leaves her for the frequently ill Margaret, and the narrator is once again alone with her incomplete thesis. She quits school, returns to the states and lands a writing gig at a Saturday Night Live type show, but Eugene lingers in her mind. He, of course, resurfaces in New York, and the two embark on an affair. (He has since married Margaret.) Marx, a former SNL writer and current New Yorker contributor, undermines her main source of tension the narrator's obsession with Eugene by failing to present Eugene as anything more than a brainy fop, and though his demise is fitting, it'll have E.M. Forster fans crying foul.