Patricia Marx, an alumna of the Harvard Lampoon and "Saturday Night Live," is a very funny writer. At The New Yorker, she writes the On and Off the Avenue column, where she delivers high-end shopping tips -- gifts for the new college graduate, for instance -- wrapped in a late-night TV-worthy comic monologue.
Marx's latest effort, "Starting From Happy," is a collection of amusing sketches and one-liners disguised as a girl-meets-boy love story. The cast of characters hails from the demographic Marx knows best: smart, funny, reasonably well-off urban folk like her.
"Starting From Happy"By Patricia Marx
Scribner, 256 pages, $24
The girl is Imogene Gilfeather, a workaholic lingerie designer with very little time to waste on a relationship, especially with men who "bantered, postured, preened, equivocated, explained, chewed the fat, played devil's advocate, watched football, cooked their famous lasagna, explored their feelings, asked her lots of questions, or had too much time."
The boy is Wally Yez, a nerdy scientist fresh out of a relationship with another woman that lasted long enough for them "to agree it is silly to celebrate one more Valentine's Day when they could put the money they'd have spent into a fund set aside to remodel the kitchen" -- and yearning for a date with Imogene. After some agonizing, Imogene agrees to go out with him, and not so long after that, they're in the suburbs raising two children.
"Starting From Happy" is a fast and funny read that is most notable for the way Marx has jazzed it up with just about every stylistic gewgaw in the arsenal of fiction writers who have given up on traditional narrative.
These include spidery, faux-naif drawings that resemble cartoons by The New Yorker contributors Maira Kalman and Roz Chast, Marx's sometime writing partner, and frequent breaks when the author, who calls herself Patty, addresses the reader directly. The text is also broken up into hundreds of little "chaplettes," sometimes just a few words in length, a style that might grow out of Marx's roots as a comedy writer forever in search of the killer one-liner.
Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the story ends. And then it starts up again. For the price of one "novel," readers are offered two possible endings. Marx, after all, is the consummate shopper.