Sally Milz is a 36-year-old scriptwriter on a late-night live TV comedy show called The Night Owls (think Saturday Night Live). She’s got a great job, good friends, an attractive apartment in Manhattan and a nice-enough man at the end of the phone for occasional hook-ups. She’s not massively bothered that she’s single. She’s certainly not bitter.
But she is annoyed by the fact that her schlubby, slightly balding, socially anxious colleague Danny Horst is dating Annabel Lily, a very famous, very attractive actress. Why do perfectly average men get to date way out of their league, while it rarely happens the other way around?
You can spot the plot a mile off. No sooner has she pitched a skit called “The Danny Horst Rule” than Sally finds her theory put to the test when she falls for Noah Brewster, a gorgeous pop idol who’s guest-hosting the show. Is Sally misreading the signals, or could Noah actually be into her too?
There aren’t any surprises here, but that’s part of the novel’s charm. Writing a believable romance is actually quite a hard thing to do well—and Curtis Sittenfeld, whose previous books include the political half-fictions American Wife and Rodham, pulls it off here with aplomb. The flirtatious banter is witty, the misunderstandings and twists of fate are just foolish enough to be frustrating, the sexual chemistry feels genuine and the inevitable conclusion brought a smile to my face.
This is light-hearted but smart comfort reading at its best. And given that the second half of the book takes place during lockdown, it’s also the least traumatic pandemic novel I’ve read yet.