A comedy writer thinks she’s sworn off love, until a dreamy pop star flips the script on all her assumptions.
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?
With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.
Romantic Comedy is a closed-door romance novel about a late night show comedy writer (think SNL) who falls for one of the show’s hosts – a hunky musician she thinks is far out of her league. Advertising and early reviews for this book promise that Sittenfeld brings something new to the genre and challenges modern dating rituals and gender norms.
I initially debated whether this book fits into the contemporary fiction or romance genre. Personally, I would call it a romance with a focus on the female protagonist’s career and personal growth in the first third of the book.
Romantic Comedy is at its core a thinly-veiled reference to Saturday Night Live and its featured cast. In fact, Sittenfeld lists a slew of books, podcasts, and articles about SNL that she used as sources in her acknowledgements. While I liked that the book made a couple jokes at SNL’s expense, I was disappointed that central to the plot was the so-called “Pete Davidson Effect.”
I am guessing that Sittenfeld’s referenced challenge of “social rituals of romance and gender relations” within Romantic Comedy was supposed to be that she flipped the narrative of the Pete Davidson Effect. However, I found many of the parts related to this cringy and think Sittenfeld failed to meet any of the promised achievements within this book.
First, there is nothing profound about taking a real-life occurrence and switching the genders. In addition, the commentary that Sittenfeld offers on the subject is scarce. I am going to guess the author has not read a single article that actually dissects the “Pete Davidson Effect” or any of the excellent (and brief) Tiktok videos that explore the topic. I honestly think if Sittenfeld had dived past the headlines, she would have quickly realized that trying to flip the narrative was a much larger endeavor than this paltry attempt. What we end up with is a story that is not particularly funny, challenges nothing within the romcom genre, and plays into the patriarchal narrative that looks matter first and foremost (and offers far too many fart jokes).
Now, that does not mean that I did not enjoy reading Romantic Comedy. It simply means that publishers should refrain from over-promising. And if Sittenfeld was challenging the romance genre, implying she believes it is problematic, I think this book failed and instead is like most books billed as romantic comedies.
The book I read prior to Romantic Comedy stressed me out and made me angry. So picking up this book, I was hoping for a lighter book to become lost in. Without a doubt, Romantic Comedy fit that bill and was an enjoyable change of pace. In fact, I stayed up until 3 am to read it in one sitting. I think this is owed to both the book’s interesting setting and format.
Romantic Comedy is told over the course of three chapters along with a prologue and epilogue. In fact, the first chapter is 128 pages. This made it a bit of a challenge to simply put down the book and stop reading. For those of you who love short chapters, you may find this book a bit of a challenge. However, I love to binge a book and found myself full swept up into the story without the interruptions of chapter breaks or story pauses.
Although the female protagonist was a bit whiny and overly concerned with being ugly (while comparing herself to the abnormally beautiful people she is surrounded by), I liked both of the main characters and their character arcs. I also appreciated that the storyline did not rely on miscommunication between them.
While I enjoyed the narrative and the female friendships it included, Romantic Comedy is simply not a book that will stick in my mind. Even having only read it a few days ago, I struggled to remember details or plot points to write my review. For me, it was not particularly memorable expect for having the most discussion of women farting and pooping of any book I have ever read. (I am not a prude, and I do not have a problem with this. It simply added nothing to the story for me.)
Overall, I enjoyed Romantic Comedy and thought it was a fun book. However, I think some people may be disappointed by the intense advertising that can lead to overhype. Regardless, I still recommend this book. And if you are an adult lover of fart jokes, I have found the book for you.
April 4, 2023
Note: I received a gifted copy of this book from its publisher, Random House. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.