It's always satisfying to encounter someone who consistently makes worse decisions than you do even if that person is fictional. The narrator of Patricia Marx's novel is just such a person: in other words, a total disaster. She's smart, she's funny and she's completely scatterbrained. She's trying to tell us about her ex-boyfriend, Eugene Obello, whom she met while studying abroad at Cambridge and with whom she is obsessed. But this might be the most tangent-heavy book since Tristram Shandy. This is not a bad thing; the tangents are a lot more fun than Eugene, a wholly unworthy object of affection. His job is to be brilliant and insufferable and make us wonder why our likable heroine can't see how awful he is. Marx used to write for Saturday Night Live and was the first woman on The Harvard Lampoon. So you can guess that when she writes about heartbreak, it's hilarious. Despite all the tangents, our heroine cannot let go of Eugene, even long after he's let go of her, married someone else, moved away and had a kid. The extremes of denial she engages in are so sad that you can't help laughing. Almost nothing about Eugene justifies this devotion; it's only about halfway through the novel that we even hear the narrator's brief laundry list of things she likes about him. But the book's not about him, anyway. He could be anyone. (Well, anyone terrific-looking with an outsized vocabulary, fake English accent and encyclopedic knowledge of classical mythology.) This book is about a smart, gung-ho girl who is consistently thrown off track by an undeserving guy. Half of the time you want to kick her for being so stuck on this obvious cad, but she's such a crackup that you can't stay mad and besides, who hasn't been stuck on a guy who didn't deserve it? Still, as common as the experience may be, the book is a rare creature: an entertaining romp of a novel whose sass and smarts elevate it well above the chick lit label. Becky Ohlsen writes from Portland, Oregon.

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