Book Review: What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin
For 39-year-old Molly, romance is something you see in the movies. Still bitter about her divorce five years earlier from her cheating ex-husband, Molly is in a nice, comfortable relationship with a nice, comfortable chiropractor. Working as a features writer for an online magazine, specializing in pieces about zany challenges like skydiving, taking a vibrator through a security checkpoint, or learning to be a Rockette, she excels at being daring in every aspect of her life — except when it comes to love. When Molly’s boss gives her an assignment to write about love, using Nora Ephron as a guidepost, she fails utterly, but finally gets the kick in the pants she needs to take a long, hard look at her life and her attitude toward love. And, as you’d expect, Molly finds herself drawn to the guy she doesn’t want to be drawn to, and finally has to confront what’s stopping her from taking the big leap… and taking a big chance on crazily romantic, head-over-heels, passionate love.
So what did I think? Let’s start with what I liked: What Nora Knew is a fast-paced, frenetically fun look at being single and being in the dating pool, from the vantage point of a woman on the verge of hitting the big 4-0. The main character is savvy and smart, and has been around the block enough times to have learned some very hard truths about the odds of finding “the one”. I liked that she’s a woman with a career that’s important to her, and that she’s willing to fight and take chances to make her writing dreams come true. The taste of New York is upbeat and exciting, and I enjoyed the use of Nora Ephron’s big romantic movies — Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally — as a template for finding and recognizing the person who makes you want to take a chance.
There are some very quippy, quirky moments that strike a great note of cynicism blended with humor. The tone overall is light and brisk, with many quote-worthy moments — such as this interview between Molly and an older gentleman on the subject of finding true love:
“How did you know she was the one?”
He shrugged. “You marry someone. Wait thirty years. If she’s still there — she’s the one.”
What didn’t I like? Well, let’s face it, in this type of book, you just never see people worrying about their paychecks or their rent. Molly works for a living, but she also comes from a well-off family, gets invited to the Hamptons for summer weekends, and eats in the best restaurants — even if it is on the company expense account. I got a little tired of reading about rich people doing rich people things. A trip to Tiffany’s? Ho hum.
I didn’t really buy the love interest or the chemistry between the two. Molly’s destined guy is pretty much an enigma throughout the book; he’s a bestselling author who speaks in platitudes, and Molly seems to be faulted in the book for not taking him at his word — but honestly, I never knew if he was on the level and could totally get why she’d mistrust him as well.
In this type of book, with romance as the focus, being single pretty much equals being a loser. Even Molly’s hard-nosed businesswoman sister and 80-something-year-old grandmother find romance — clearly, the problem must be Molly. The idea that if you don’t fall into passionate and romantic love, then there’s something wrong with you really is not going to help the self-esteem of any single women reading this book. So if we all try to emulate a fictional character in a Nora Ephron movie, we’ll finally find the true love we’ve been promised? This may work in a novel that aims for madcap, but I’d hate to see someone apply this philosophy in real life.
The humorous tone works on and off throughout the book. It does get to be a bit much at times, and I often felt that the author went overboard with attempts to portray Molly’s escapades as wacky and wild. But who knows? Perhaps I’m just too serious and cynical by nature to be able to throw caution to the wind and just go with it.
It’s a cute premise, and not without a great sense of fun, but overall? I’d have to put What Nora Knew squarely on the chick-lit shelf — and in general, I’m not a fan of chick-lit. It’s a fluffy diversion, and if you like this sort of thing, you’ll have a good time. For me? It’s not the type of book I’d usually seek out, and it won’t make any of my “best of” lists, but it kept me entertained while I was reading it, and that’s something.
Title: What Nora Knew
Author: Linda Yellin
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: January 21, 2014
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Gallery Books via NetGalley