Attenberg tackles the unpredictable terrain of modern love in her tale of three women - Maggie, Holly and Sarah Lee, each adrift on the emotional tides of romanticism until time erodes their bright expectations, leaving them much the wiser for all the wear and tear.
With persistent precision, the author pulls her protagonists’ lives apart like fragile butterfly wings, exposing the soft underbellies of disappointed youth and the harsh reality of adulthood, the defense mechanisms that become more practiced with age and experience. In edgy prose, Attenberg speaks the language of her generation, their hopes for the future, relationships governed by the human imperfections that spring to life when dreams are thwarted, no matter how unrealistic those dreams may be.
Maggie settles early on, marrying Robert, a decent, thoughtful and more than sufficient wage earner to keep her in material comforts. But Maggie discovers that there may be more to life than a collection of things and an unquestioning acceptance of her husband’s every action; she is adept at hiding her real self, tucking it deep inside while she smiles at her husband approvingly, sporting her massive diamond wedding set.
Taking a huge risk, Maggie decides to share her inner life with Robert. Naturally, he is appalled, unbelieving and judgmental, just as she has expected. This is a seminal moment in the marriage, the instant when Maggie comes of age, relinquishing the small pretensions of her past for a more promising future.
Maggie’s older sister, Holly, is single by attrition rather than intent, wasting countless hours perusing Internet dating sites choosing the man of the moment, a chronic victim of the inherent emotional laziness of computer technology when faced with personal interaction.
Holly picks from a diminishing supply of online Lotharios, most disappointing, her efforts more from habit than a genuine attempt to connect with another human, testing the small lies and ingenious remarks that turn frogs into princes. Holly’s first boyfriend, her first love, seems so very long ago, innocence a thing of the past.
Sarah Lee is always on the outside looking in at others, hyper-aware that everyone has someone but her, ever since the one who got away. The lonely princess in the tower; Sarah Lee is perpetually waiting, but she appreciates the perfection of the moment, knowing that once she bites the apple, it will never be so sweet again. She prepares for that moment, her chance at love, her small but precious taste of the forbidden fruit.
The odd acquaintances and ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands, girlfriends, further define the protagonists, as time passes inexorably by, anxious lovers missing each other on the way to romantic trysts and one-night stands. Attenberg delves below the brittle surface of what looks like love with brutal honesty, probing the deepest yearnings, hopes and doubts of her characters.