In English as a Second Language, our heroine Alexandra goes to grad school across the pond primarily because her ex-boyfriend says she can’t. It’s a bit of a lark… but one that’ll take about a year to get through.
Hm. The writing style’s quick and witty (highlights include Alex attempting to spy on her flatmate’s ex-girlfriend in order to help him find out if she’s got a new boyfriend: ‘I was pretty drunk, I admitted to myself, but why let that get in the way of a simple reconnaissance mission? I was highly trained. I’d attended a small liberal arts college.’ This line makes me giggle.) and the pacing’s tight. But (there’s always a but) the characters and the impact on the story are stratified based on gender. Alex lays out the issue herself near the beginning. ‘Something happened after too many years in New York: you curdled or maybe it was the last dregs of your optimism drying up, and then the next thing you knew you were a 42-year-old “career woman” too mean to even bother with cats.’ She’s got to navigate a path to adulthood that balances sexuality, success, and self-respect. Normally I’d think that’s the hotness, but here? Not so much. One of the central conflicts of the book is Alex’s tumultuous relationship with the red-headed Suzanne, a women’s college graduate who’s a psychotic bunny boiler, and competes with Alex for top marks and the affection of Toby, a sexy sexy boy they both take classes with. During the course of the year, Toby hooks up with Suzanne, kinda-but-doesn’t break up with her, while having random deep connections with Alex. Throughout the book, everyone reminds us that Alex is the male version of Toby (they both drink and smoke?) but what’s noticeably absent on Alex’s end is the emotionally manipulative dicking around. And, keep in mind, even though Toby’s been sleeping with Suzanne and messing with Alex’s mind, the person you DON’T want to be is Suzanne (because she’s nuts) and the person you want to DATE is Toby (because he’s sexy beast).
For Alex, there are two kinds of women: the Suzannes of the world, who are nutty, randomly mean, and sexual in all the wrong ways (they turn into angry feminists too mean to own cats, I presume) and the flitty, ditzy girls she’s friends with, who have tumultuous love lives with vaguely emotionally distant men, smoke a lot, and keep their pesky feelings confined to the kitchenette or pub, where they can’t bother anyone. I’m no too sure what kind of adults they turn into, though, or if they ever actually make it there.