Bridget Jones's Diary
seems to have unleashed a flood of similar novels featuring unmarried, underemployed, somewhat neurotic young women searching for the right job--and, more importantly, the right man. One of the better entries in the Bridget Jones Sweepstakes is Kate Christensen's In the Drink
, which features a 29-year-old New Yorker. Claudia Steiner long ago traded in her initial dream of making it big in journalism for a position as personal secretary and ghostwriter for Genevieve "Jackie" del Castellano, an elderly writer of bestselling novels and a lunatic to boot. In addition to her employment woes, Claudia has an unsatisfactory love life: her lover is married, and the man she
loves just wants to be friends. Helen Fielding played these miseries for comedy; Christensen, however, takes her character--and her readers--down a darker path. Where Bridget would get tipsy in a pub with her girlfriends, Claudia prefers to drink alone. Still, though Claudia's tribulations mount--she loses her job, she can't pay the rent, she makes a pass at her best friend and secret crush, William, and gets rebuffed--Christensen manages to keep the tone hopeful even as she refuses to pull her punches. When, for example, an acquaintance calls her a drunk, Claudia thinks:
A drunk was someone to be reckoned with, someone interesting and far-gone. I should have been alarmed and ashamed, should have considered joining all those chain-smokers in church basements--I knew what I was supposed to feel. But the sunlight covered the street with the clear healthy gold of ale, the brownstone faces were burnished the toast-warm color of bourbon in candlelight, the air was clear and lively as gin, and something leapt in me, a persistent little flame of self. In the Drink
is not a Cinderella story, after all--nor even a retelling of a Jane Austen classic--but Christensen ends her debut on a hopeful note without giving its heroine a complete makeover. And in Claudia she has created a character who is endearing because of her flaws, not in spite of them. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
The smart, urban and aimless have found their heroine in this charmingly original debut novel. Claudia Steiner is a funny, pretty, cynical 29-year-old who has "failed to connect" and who's disillusioned with her spotty employment history and restless, rootless existence. Having long ago lost the journalistic ambition that brought her to Manhattan, Claudia lives in a hole of an apartment on the Upper West Side. She can't pay her rent or bills and spends all her money on cabs, take-out food and nights of drinking at East Village clubs. Her bleak love life consists of drunken one-night stands, a passionate but doomed relationship with a married poet and a consuming but seemingly unrequited love for her dearest friend, William. Claudia works as a ghostwriter (and personal secretary) to 70-something Jackie del Castellano, bestselling author and socialite, a "semi-lunatic" spitfire whose outrageous mistreatment of Claudia borders on the sadistic (yet perversely hilarious). Claudia's miserable existence approaches its nadir when she makes some endearingly horrific blunders at work and gets fired. "A persistent little flame of self" and a wonderfully ironic sense of humorAincluding a kind of wry pride in her capacity for boozingApull her through, however. Claudia comes to realize that the people to whom she's enviously compared herself aren't what they appear to be: Jackie is not as invincible as she seems, and even William, her idealized romantic hero, has his dark side. The discovery of compassion and connection in the midst of Claudia's chaotic and confusing life encourages her to redefine what she wants and what it means to be an adult. Though often poignant, her memorable story never cloys and is enlivened with refreshingly unsentimental humor and a sparkling ensemble of skillfully drawn contemporary urban characters.
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