Jami Attenberg's fictional debut, Instant Love, is as refreshing and slightly unnerving as the garishly colored Popsicle melting on its cover. A linked short story cycle, Instant Love follows the lives and loves of a collection of women deftly sketched in a series of delicately (though often quite hilariously) wrought bad dates, awkward bedroom conversations, and other suitably mundane circumstances. Sharp, funny and wry, Attenberg's prose is the star of the show here, spicing up her portrayal of the characters' rather uneventful lives with insightful details and amusing asides that make the stories able to resonate with (at least this) reader's own rather uneventful life.
The danger of this kind of book, of course, is a tendency toward the facile melding of clever one-liners and specious, unearned "wisdom" that characterizes the worst of so-called "chick-lit." Even more risky, Attenberg fragments her story into linked but self-contained pieces, echoing the structure of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, the book that acted as the unwitting yin yoked to Bridget Jones's Diary's sassy, frenetic yang at the start of the whole tacky "chick-lit" pseudo-movement way back in 1999. But despite all this, and despite being burdened by a place on O magazine's chirpily didactic "What You're Really Going to Want to Read This Summer" list, Instant Love distinguishes itself admirably and consistently from the other popular girls trading wisecracks on the shelves nearby. The bracing seriousness of purpose underlying the intermittently fizzy, quip-filled surface provides a backbone to her work that places it rightfully next to some of today's best writers, including Mary Gaitskill, A.M. Homes, Lorrie Moore and Michelle Tea. Like these authors, Attenberg is able to smuggle lasting, resonant moments of pain and clarity along with the humor, like a Popsicle spiked with tequila, smooth and refreshing at first but leaving behind a pleasant sting and a bared soul in its wake.
by Brian Bergstrom