It might have been fate that made me pick up Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld on a random trip to Target. With a handful of TBRs at home, I didn’t need a new book, but I couldn’t turn away. Twenty-four hours after flopping down with my brand new book on the couch, I’d finished it. I even started re-reading a few pages! One thing’s for sure: I can’t tell you the last time I’ve lost sleep over a book because I didn’t want to put it down.
As a featured pick of Reese’s Book Club, Romantic Comedy is a woman-centered story about love (of course), family, social norms, and late night television. It doesn’t ignore the grim reality of a global pandemic, but the shadow it casts isn’t overwhelming. In fact, it’s in these moments — when the stakes are at their highest — that the depth of love shines. If you’re looking for a cozy read for vacation or the season, you’re in for a treat.
Minor spoilers ahead.
FROM RANDOM HOUSE:
Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life.
But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show — and in society at large — who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called the Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman.
Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy — it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right?
Reading ‘Romantic Comedy’ by Curtis Sittenfeld
Bookended by a prologue and epilogue, Romantic Comedy takes place in three acts. In the first chapter, we’re alongside comedy writer Sally Milz during a nearly-typical work week at The Night Owls (TNO) a.k.a the Saturday Night Live of this universe. The big anomalous event — second only to a high-profile engagement within the cast — is that this week the host is undertaking the challenge of also being the musical guest. Noah Brewster, a now-thirtysomething pop star who’s been famous for the better part of two decades, shows up to the pitch meeting fully-engaged and raring to go. He and Sally have a somewhat tense exchange of creative differences in the room full of TV professionals, but unbeknownst to all, it’s the start of everything.
The Romance in Comedy
I wouldn’t call the romance between Sally and Noah a slow burn, but it is gradual and palpable. As they connect over creative ideas, Noah is humble and eager, quickly showing his ability to defer to the person he considers smarter than he is. Sally, on the other hand, is doing her job so well that her crush sneaks up on her. (Relatable.) The trajectory of their romance doesn’t rely on miscommunication that easily sorts out with a simple conversation. Instead, Sally and Noah have space to make immature decisions, but ultimately, have to act as adults. In order to move forward, they have to face truths about themselves and be honest with each other.
Sally broke through the barrier of finding her own independence years prior, and Noah has done a lot of work on himself after his own share of heartbreak. It puts both in a position of being more in tune with who they are at heart — although there are some knots to work out with feelings and attraction. Still, despite working in the schmaltz and imagination of the entertainment industry, both Sally and Noah are refreshingly human. They make rash decisions they can’t explain, they contradict themselves, and they overthink. Its their vulnerability with those they hold close that grounds them.
The beginnings and progressions of Sally and Noah’s relationship contain recognizable experiences that made me think of my own brushes with love. In Chapter 1, I was on the edge of my seat for every spark. In Chapter 2, there were moments when I put the book down from my downright visceral reactions (see: lots of flailing). By Chapter 3, I was shamelessly giggling and kicking the blankets. It’s a sweet romance, and the steady buildup is well worth the reward.
The Comedy of Relationships
What I enjoyed most about Romantic Comedy, aside from the actual romance, was how real the characters felt. It’s easy to imagine the dramatic extremes of humanity, but Sittenfeld captures the middle ground of familiarity, foul jokes, and fumbled flirtation that’s in everyday communication. I’ll admit that Sally speaking up about social injustices surprised me a few times; however, I appreciated her active efforts to not perpetuate the problems and move toward a better society for all. Within complicated dynamics of the workplace and dating; Sally’s histories with her friends and TNO staff; and the balance between public personas and private lives, you’re not left with shallow impressions of relationships. Not everyone gets along, and that’s okay. They gossip, talk shit, mess up and make up, and the clearly-drawn yet flexible social lines keep you in the story.
As someone whose former roommate never missed an episode of SNL, walking through a fictional week-long process of creating a live comedy sketch show was kind of nostalgic. As a writer, being in Sally’s head as she wrote, edited, coached, procrastinated, worked late, met deadlines, and chased her dreams was cathartic. What was especially fun was reading everyone’s voices and being able to clearly imagine what they were like, even down to those with little to no dialogue.
Romantic Comedy isn’t only the title, it’s the tone. Yes, there’s sadness, misfortune, and unfortunate events that’s taken seriously. However, even when these events shape attitudes and decisions characters make in the story, they’re handled head-on in order to overcome or live with them. It’s then that you see if someone will show up or give up. There’s a recurring theme of people finding light in the darkness — and looking for love that’s worth fighting for.
ONE FAVORITE LINE:
“I believe you that you’re bad at dating, but you can be bad at dating and still fall in love once a lifetime.”
You Might Enjoy ‘Romantic Comedy’ by Curtis Sittenfeld If You Like…
- The “strangers to lovers” trope
- Celebrity + Non-Celebrity romance
- Women supporting women
- Indigo Girls
- Fart jokes