"Literacy and Longing in L.A." is a breezy, cheeky chick-lit by first time authors Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. Narrator Dora (named after Eudora Welty) is a 35 year old, unemployed newspaper writer who is obsessed with books. They kept her company when she was a girl, providing an escape from her dysfunctional family. But now, her compulsive reading keeps her from facing the issues in her life.
Some of Dora's fellow characters are cute and interesting, such as bookstore clerk Sara who dropped out of Brigham Young University when she realized she was a lesbian, but the story is seriously flawed and ultimately dull. It's written in first-person, present tense ("I smear on some Nars cherry lip gloss."), a style that makes every scene feel urgent! And important! But it's hard to get excited about a book when the lead character is deeply depressed, twice divorced, and a borderline alcoholic. Dora repeatedly refers to herself as looking ratty and wrinkled, yet everyone she encounters mentions how great she looks, going so far as to compare her to Nicole Kidman. Isn't it annoying when authors try to force us to like their characters?
Halfway though the book, the tone changes dramatically with the introduction of a whole new cast of characters. What starts out as a cute little romantic comedy turns into a woman's unconscious desire to replace her own alcoholic mother with a kinder, gentler version. It's disturbing and off-putting. And finally, "Literacy and Longing in L.A." is packed with way too many literary references; it feels like half the book is quotation. There are footnotes, for heaven's sake!
Some women shop. Some eat. Dora cures the blues by bingeing on books-reading one after another, from Flaubert to bodice rippers, for hours and days on end. In this wickedly funny and sexy literary debut, we meet the beguiling, beautiful Dora, whose unique voice combines a wry wit and vulnerability as she navigates the road between reality and fiction.
Dora, named after Eudora Welty, is an indiscriminate book junkie whose life has fallen apart-her career, her marriage, and finally her self-esteem. All she has left is her love of literature, and the book benders she relied on as a child. Ever since her larger-than-life father wandered away and her book-loving, alcoholic mother was left with two young daughters, Dora and her sister, Virginia, have clung to each other, enduring a childhood filled with literary pilgrimages instead of summer vacations. Somewhere along the way Virginia made the leap into the real world. But Dora isn't quite there yet. Now she's coping with a painful separation from her husband, scraping the bottom of a dwindling inheritance, and attracted to a seductive book-seller who seems to embody all that literature has to offer-intelligent ideas, romance, and an escape from her problems.
Joining Dora in her odyssey is an elderly society hair-brusher, a heartbroken young girl, a hilarious off-the-wall female teamster, and Dora's mother, now on the wagon, trying to make amends. Along the way Dora faces some powerful choices. Between two irresistible men. Between idleness and work. And most of all between the joy of well-chosen words and the untidiness of real people and real life.