From the bestselling author of The Inn at Lake Devine ("Rivals her own best work for its understanding of the way smart, opinionated people stumble toward happiness"--Glamour) and Isabel's Bed ("It's Fannie Farmer for the soul . . . delivered in a delicious style that is both funny and elegant"--USA Today) comes a darkly romantic comedy of manners that confirms Elinor Lipman's appointment to the Jane Austen chair in modern American sensibility.
Thirty unmarried years have passed since the barely suitable Harvey Nash failed to show up at a grand Boston hotel for his own engagement party. Today, the near-bride, Adele Dobbin, and her two sisters, Lois and Kathleen, blame Harvey for what unkind relatives call their spinsterhood, and what potential beaus might characterize as a leery, united front. The doorbell rings one cold April night. Harvey Nash, older, filled with regrets (sort of), more charming and arousable than ever, just in from the Coast, where he's reinvented himself as Nash Harvey, jingle composer and chronic bachelor, has returned to the scene of his first romantic crime. Despite the sisters' scars and grudges, despite his platinum tongue and roving eye, this old flame becomes an improbable catalyst for the untried and the long overdue.
The refined and level-headed Adele finds herself flirting with her boss--on public television. Entrepreneurial Kathleen is suddenly drinking cappuccino with Lorenz, the handsome doorman at the luxury high-rise where she owns a lingerie boutique. And Lois, the only sister to have embarked on the road to matrimony and, subsequently, divorce, revives her long-cherished notion that Harvey abandoned Adele rather than indulge his preference for another Dobbin.
Both comic and compassionate, The Ladies' Man has all of Lipman's trademark wit, wattage, and social mischief--with an extra bite.
The Dobbin sisters are not the Bennetts, and Harvey Nash is no Mr. Darcy, but Lipman's latest novel is Pride and Prejudice as it plays out in the bicoastal, aging-boomer '90s. The protagonists--three red-haired siblings and the man who dumped one of them at her 1967 engagement party--are all in their 40s and 50s. Almost chaste and largely celibate, the Dobbins live together spinsterishly in a Boston suburb, until the womanizing cad who now calls himself Nash Harvey flies in from L.A. "on a mission... to apologize." Unforgiving Adele, the oldest and the one he dumped, works stoically in public TV--in marked contrast to Harvey's precarious livelihood writing commercial jingles. Difficult middle sister Lois, divorced from a cross-dressing patent attorney, for decades has believed--mistakenly--that the smoothly smarmy Harvey left town because of his feelings for her. She welcomes him back with barely concealed lust. The youngest, Kathleen, reacts angrily to his predatory insinuations, breaking a casserole dish on his head and inadvertently turning Nash into an unwelcome houseguest. Paths cross in sitcom fashion, especially since Cynthia John, Harvey's pickup on the red-eye from L.A., lives in the building that houses Kathleen's lingerie shop. The situation is provocative and promising, and at first Lipman seems poised to deliver a semiwhimsical search for identity la Ann Tyler. She exhibits a gimlet eye for the nuances of social interaction and for the rituals of courtship both East and West Coast style, and as usual, her view of the battle of the sexes is frank and refreshing. But the narrative soon begins to read like the outline of a screenplay. Done in shots and heavy on (admittedly snappy) dialogue, it sacrifices depth of character and story for glib entertainment. Though certain scenes (Adele's perfunctory deflowering; the car crash in which Harvey's ex meets a New York playwright on the make) are witty and engaging, too many other encounters (Harvey's sojourn in the Dobbins' apartment; a cocktail party/jingle recital) are dictated less by credibility than by the need to be cute. It's satisfying that while Harvey faces his comeuppance and a palimony suit, the Dobbin sisters finally confront love and commitment. In the end, however, this book is more superficial than we have come to expect of Lipman's fiction. BOMC selection; film rights to Paramount. FYI: The Inn at Lake Devine will be released in trade paperback by Vintage in May.