Manless in Montclair: How a Happily Married Woman Became a Widow Looking for Love in the Wilds of Suburbia is a book about loss, love, friendship and finding joy in what is right in front of you (along with a little desperation thrown in for good measure). The book begins with Isabel coming home to find her husband dead and proceeds to tell their story from their first meeting through their engagement in flashback form. After her background is established, the book follows Isabel through her grieving and recovery process as she attempts to fit back into the dating world (with two young daughters). Eventually, getting fed up with prospects, Isabel e-mails her friends with a proposition: find me a husband, and I’ll send you and your significant other on an all expenses paid vacation. This e-mail ends up in the New York Daily News, and Isabel finds herself with much more than she bargained for.
The book itself is witty and moving. Isabel wants another man because she is lonely. However, she also wants to find a father for her children. This devotion to her daughters is touching – she makes it clear that anyone she ends up with will have to become a father to her children. She will make no compromises when it comes to them. Isabel manages to cope with the changes in her life quite gracefully; she is resilient. While her grief for Michael (her late husband) is palpable, she doesn’t let it control her or take over her life. She recognizes that bad things happen, and that while she doesn’t necessarily have to get over it right away, she has to move on with her life.
The story is actually a true one based on the life of author Amy Holman Edelman. I did not discover this until after I had read the book, and while it made sense, it surprised me a little. I thought some of the characters seemed underdeveloped, which doesn’t make as much sense if they’re really based on actual people.
One frustrating part of the book is the passage of time. At the beginning of the book, it jumps between flashbacks and present day, which is difficult to keep up with but manageable. It becomes more irritating when time starts flying by. The first quarter or so of the book takes place in a week-long time frame. The last quarter of the book takes place in a two-week time frame. In the middle of these two, it’s difficult for the reader to keep track of how long has passed. Luckily, Edelman throws in phrases such as “it had been a year since Michael’s death” and such, which makes it easier for the reader. I did find it odd that the main focus of the book, the article in the New York Daily News, comes in the last quarter of the novel. Considering its prominence on the back of the book, it should have been more thoroughly explored. Instead, it feels rushed and glossed over, which may have been how it happened in real life. It just doesn’t flow very well in the book.
As compared to other chick lit novels, Manless in Montclair is enjoyable and witty. I consider Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes to be the standard against which to judge chick lit books about losing a husband. While Manless in Montclair isn’t quite as poignant, it still is a very enjoyable book which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the genre.