Nancy O'Toole's Reviews > The Big Love

The Big Love by Sarah Dunn
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Sep 14, 10

bookshelves: audiobook, chick-lit
Read in May, 2009

Alison Hopkins receives the shock of her life while hosting a dinner party. She sends her boyfriend out to get mustard, and then he never comes back. Instead, he calls her on the phone, advising her that he has left her for his college sweetheart Kate Pearce, who, she finds out, he has been cheating on her with for months. Alison doesn’t know how to deal with this break up from a man that she thought that she was going to marry one day, and the fact that she’s completely neurotic about sex and adult relationships (thanks in big part to an evangelical Christian upbringing) makes her new found singleness even more daunting. With her wit and friends to guide her, Alison must figure out the next steps to take in her love life.

I tend to skim over book reviews while I’m reading something. I know I risk being spoiled, but I’m always curious to see if other people agree with me on what I’m reading. The Big Love has gotten reviews from all sides. Some people praise Sarah Dunn, calling her the next Nora Ephron. Others label The Big Love as the most derivative kind of chick lit. My feelings are a little more middling.

The Big Love is an almost good book. Almost in the fact that Sarah Dunn really knows how to bring on the funny. Some of Alison’s rambles made me laugh aloud, and as a writer who cannot write comedy, I have great respect for anyone who can. I especially like her reflections on being raised as a member of the Christian right and how that impacted her adult self. But at the same time, the writing very much felt like a debut novel. Alison’s amusing rants make up most of the pages, with characters popping in for short scenes here in there. As a result, all of the side characters feel undeveloped, especially the male ones. Also, although Alison’s opinions can be funny, it soon becomes obvious with her thoughts on relationships and men that she’s kind of a crazy person, which can make the book a little frustrating.

The plot of The Big Love is strikingly similar to Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed. Both books tell about a woman working as a reporter, living in Philadelphia, who experiences an unexpected and dramatic breakup. The female lead must deal with her newfound singleness, professional woes, and her own issues about society’s expectations, (in Good in Bed, it was weight, in The Big Love, its sex) as well as that whole “my father abandoned me as a child” thing. Only Good in Bed take more time to tell the story, and less time on neurotic ramblings. The characters are more developed, the storyline more complex, and the main character, although at times unlikable, makes sense. This is where The Big Love falls short of other chick lit titles. The writer depends on a storyline that’s been done before, and characters that have also been done before, to tell a funny story. The funny gets across fine, but the story falls short.

As you can tell from this rather long review, The Big Love was a book that left me conflicted. One chapter I’d be laughing at the funny jokes and situations, the other I’d be frustrated. This made it very difficult to come up with a rating for this book. There were a lot of things I liked, but a lot of things that just fell short.
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