Paula Marantz Cohen's plucky heroine in Suzanne Davis Gets a Life is a 34-year-old single woman living in a "shoe-box" sized apartment in Manhattan and writing press releases for I-ACE, the International Association of Air Conditioning Engineers. With a far-from-glamorous job, a ticking biological clock and not even a Mr. Right-Enough in sight, Suzanne has decided enough is enough. "Let's face it; I want more," she tells us straight. "I'm not asking for a Jane Austen novel, but I want love or at least companionship and maybe a bigger apartment. In short, I want a life." (p.7)
Suzanne goes about the getting of a life in a humorous and determined way. Taking inspiration from Jane Austen, who focused her plots on a few families in a small English country village, Suzanne decides to focus her husband-hunting efforts on the dozen or so people in her New York apartment building.
As a tech writer working from home, Suzanne has a flexible schedule and she takes full advantage of it. She decides to launch her find-a-mate project by studying the mothers in her building who frequent the playground across the street. They have succeeded at marriage and motherhood and must, she concludes, have something to teach her. Before long, she has them categorized into three groups. First are the very young, "dazed"-looking moms who seem to be "wondering how it was they had gotten here." Next are the slightly older moms who have left work to stay home full time and are secretly exultant if a little guilty about it. Finally there are the really old moms who are completely engrossed in every aspect of childcare to a worrying degree. "All that care—how could it not result in serious neurosis?" Suzanne asks.
It isn't long before Suzanne "makes contact." Pauline, a forty-something mom of a precocious young daughter asks Suzanne to join her book club, promising that one member is a suitable, unattached young man who might be just the one she's looking for. Of course it is never quite that easy. Suzanne picks the least suitable choice more than once, but seems to be making some kind of slow progress when she is suddenly derailed by a diagnosis of "pretty good," curable breast cancer.
Suzanne faces her illness without flinching, humor intact, even though the medication she'll have to take for the next five years probably means that a biological child will not be in the cards. Cancer is a major bummer, but not without its perks. As Suzanne puts it, "It was the first time that I found myself a member of a club where I didn't have to exert myself to belong; I didn't have to make lanyards or sing in the choir or do community service or chatter in Spanish around a lunch table. I didn't even have to read books. It was nice to be congratulated for doing nothing." (p. 197) She's even getting along better with her irritating mother. It all has something to do with perspective. Suzanne realizes that she already has a life, one she's willing to fight for.
The twists and turns of Suzanne's quest to get a life—or rather to fight for the one she already has—are funny in themselves, but funnier still is her dry, sarcastic wit that shows her to be astute but not bitter. This is a book that will really, truly, actually make you laugh out loud. Suzanne Davis is just plain likeable, the kind of character you not only enjoy but wish were a real person so you could be friends. And the happy ending is at least as satisfying as any Jane Austin novel could be.
Paula Marantz Cohen is Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University where she teaches courses in literature, film, and creative writing. Cohen is the author of four nonfiction books and five novels, and is the producer of the documentary film, "Two Universities and the Future of China." Her play, "The Triangle," about John Singer Sargent, Henry James, and Edith Wharton, was a finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. Her essays, stories, and reviews have appeared in The Yale Review, The American Scholar, The Southwest Review, the Times Literary Supplement, Raritan, The Hudson Review, and other publications. Cohen holds a B.A. in French and English from Yale College and a Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University. To learn more, visit her website.
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