It's a Saturday morning in Brooklyn. Joel Miller, age twenty-eight, stands outside his locked bathroom door. Behind it are his girlfriend Lisa, a Dixie cup, and a pregnancy test. While she stalls for time, Miller is left in his hallway to wonder and wait: for the results of the test, for the pieces of his addled life to come together, for some kind of divine intervention to guide his actions when Lisa finally emerges. Thus begins Lauren Grodstein's beguiling debut novel, a wise, wonderfully assured journey deep into the heart of the commitmentphobic male. Awaiting test results that could determine his future, Miller finds himself replaying all he has seen of love so far. There was his father Stan's awkward balancing act between doting father and failed husband, and his mother Bay's refusal to accept that Stan was never coming back. There was his playboy friend Grant's devastation upon falling for the one woman he couldn't have. And most of all, there was Miller's own prior relationship--with Blair, the aloof beauty he can't stop thinking about, the one who got away.
Grodstein's first novel (after 2002's collection The Best of Animals) is a sweet, honest account of the life and loves of 20-something Joel Miller. It's a rainy Saturday, and Miller has just been directed to walk the 12 blocks to the independent drug store in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to buy his girlfriend a pregnancy test. The rest of the novel takes place as Miller waits outside the bathroom door for Lisa to reveal the results, all the while pondering past loves and future concerns. There was his father Stan's stiff advice to "Remember the consequences, son" of what he called "the deed"-but here Miller is, living with a long-haired, potentially pregnant third-grade teacher with a broken leg. They are "admirable roommates"; they have regular "brisk, healthy sex." But is it enough Miller recalls the complicated bonds between his depressed mother, Bay, and his father; he spent his high school years weaving his way through the emotional consequences of his father's departure and his mother's instability. But even more powerfully, Miller recalls his first love, Blair, the Park Avenue beauty whose attentions made him feel like he was "eating chocolate for the first time after a lifetime of bread." But Blair eventually teaches him a wrenching lesson about the truths of love. Grodstein's effortless prose slides forward and back in time, charting universal doubts with both specificity and economy. Her story is modest, but compulsively readable, as her familiar characters-a fumbling father, a sad mother, a confused boy, a fratty best friend and an ice princess-move in paths both inevitable and surprising. Agent, Julie Barer. (July) Forecast: This book is perfect for the kind of rainy Saturday it describes; readers will find it touching, pleasing and easy to devour in a single afternoon. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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The Dial Press
June 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Flaw of Love by Lauren Grodstein
Five Minutes Ago
Miller wanted to go to Rite Aid, but Lisa wanted him to go to Smith Drug, and this is what they found themselves fighting about in the sticky five minutes after she announced that her period was late. It's probably nothing, she said. "Go to Smith and grab me an E.P.T. stick. And also some more Crest. We're almost out."
"There's a new tube under the sink," Miller told her. "What do you mean, it's probably nothing? How late are you?"
Lisa sighed and stuck a pen in between the pages of the book she was reading, to hold her place. This was how she liked to fight: sighing and feigning distraction. The book was Mrs. Bridge. Six days. And there's no new tube under the sink-that's the one we just finished. Go to Smith Drug, she repeated.
"Rite Aid's closer."
"It's raining out."
"I thought we were going to support the little guys."
"You might be pregnant."
"Miller," she said to him, and picked her book back up. "It's probably nothing."
He looked at her face closely, to see if she meant it-was it Nothing or maybe this was really Something-but she closed her eyes and yawned and it was impossible to determine. This felt strange to him, because Lisa was rarely impossible.
Miller rolled his eyes at the dog. The dog snuffled and yawned. This all happened five minutes ago.
Joel Miller and Lisa Stanislaw live together in Brooklyn, in three small rooms painted yellow. The apartment belonged to Lisa before Miller moved in, and therefore Miller suffers certain daily indignities-lacy ruffled curtains, a teakettle shaped like a duck, a black-and-white poster, over the television, of a towheaded boy offering flowers to a towheaded girl. When Miller moved in eight months ago, he and Lisa made compromises-he was allowed to smoke indoors; she was allowed to keep that fucking poster. So.
These days, despite their respective concessions, the pair make admirable roommates, agreeing on grocery store decisions and bathroom cleaning and music. They gladly pay for air-conditioning, but have jointly vetoed cable. They play the Stones and Chaka Khan on the CD player. They like to cook ravioli together, and three to four times a week enjoy brisk, healthy sex. They also share the yawning, snuffling dog, Harry, and, to sum up, rarely step on each other's toes. It is a peaceable existence.
The corner of Brooklyn that Lisa and Miller inhabit is called Park Slope: leafy blocks jammed with renovated brownstones and cheery ice-cream parlors and taped-up flyers announcing lost cats or stoop sales. Lisa has lived here for six years-since three days after her Barnard graduation-and Miller knows that she prides herself on being very much of the neighborhood. Storekeepers wave to her on her walk home; she smiles and waves back. Her favorite mornings are the ones in bright summer when Long Island farmers set up stalls at the mouth of Prospect Park and call it a "greenmarket." On these mornings, Lisa wakes up early to jostle for dented blueberries and slightly viscous zucchini bread. As for Miller, it took him a while to acclimate to the Park Slope penchants for eating organic and supporting independent businesses. Before Brooklyn, he'd lived on the Upper East Side and drank two Starbucks mocha lattes daily. Although the lattes made Miller feel girly, their Starbucks provenance never left him feeling like a bad citizen.