Finding the right woman is not easy. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, temperaments, and ages. Very few come with warranties or owner's manuals. Most require shots of various kinds, dental work and their own space in the closet. Some even require varying amounts of cosmetic surgery. Is it any wonder that some men opt for a wide-screen TV instead? It is this search for the right woman that is at the core of the debut novel Girlfriend 44 by a promising new British writer, Mark Barrowcliffe. The two male protagonists in this story Harry, a fattish, middle-aged television researcher who drinks too much, and Gerrard, a thin, middle-aged perfectionist who drinks too little are roommates who are forever commiserating over the lack of acceptable women on the open market. Harry is looking for girlfriend number 44 and Gerrard is looking for perfect girlfriend number three. Meanwhile, all they have is each other.

Enter the ideal specimen, Alice, a woman who is so perfect it is nauseating, and you can perhaps divine where the story is headed. The fact that she likes both men only makes the ultimate stakes higher for each man. Neither wants to lose to a loser.

Despite its cosmic social implications, Girlfriend 44 shouldn't be misjudged; it is a comic look at the expectations men and women have for a process that few people of either sex ever master. Dating is only a microcosm of life itself you'll do just fine, as long as you never convince yourself that you will somehow come out of the experience alive. Barrowcliffe is an exceptional writer, but the genius of this work is his apparent realization that if he combined every prejudice women have about men and injected them into the genes of Harry and Gerrard, he would have the makings of a bestseller and he is probably correct.

Read it and weep.

Author James L. Dickerson abandoned his search for the right woman with the publication of his book, Women on Top. These days he watches a lot of television.

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