Cupid and Diana
by Christina Bartolomeo
(Scribner, $22, PG) ISBN 0-684-83977-7
****
Cupid and Diana was featured in Entertainment Weekly's "Hot List" this past summer, and described as "a smart romance novel," as if that phrase were an oxymoron. Once I got over my indignation about the article's smug dismissal of my favorite genre, I decided to check the novel out, and was pleasantly surprised. At $22.00 for a brief 220 pages, this is probably not a book to purchase, but it's highly ecommended for your library reserve list.

Our heroine, Diana Campanella is almost a lot of things. She's almost engaged to her WASPy attorney boyfriend, Philip. She's almost making a living with her Washington D.C. vintage clothing store. She's almost free of the constraints of her traditional Catholic upbringing. But basically, she's in a rut.

Diana realizes that she is not madly in love with Philip.

When everything about a person's life charms you his background, his possessions, his flawless manners and meticulously generous lovemaking it is hard to discern whether you are charmed by him. I never stopped to ask myself what life would be like if Philip and I were stranded on a desert island, away from his gracious background and my endless capacity to be impressed by his polish and poise.

Then, at her widowed father's birthday party, Diana's glamorous sister Cynthia introduces her to Harry Sandburg, a cute but rumpled Jewish legal aid attorney who is separated from his wife. It's instant attraction for both Diana and Harry, and the two are soon trading favorite sitcom theme songs and making incredibly passionate love. They're soul mates, no doubt about it, a Catholic girl and a Jewish guy who were both raised by unhappy, working-class parents. But Diana isn't sure that Harry has really left his wife for good, and Philip is such a nice, albeit stuffy, guy. What's a girl to do? Can she figure out what she really wants and then go for it instead of just settling for something?

I had cheated on Philip, and it put me outside some moral pale I'd always stayed comfortably within before. In the past when I'd had things to hide from him (such as how I felt about his lime-green golf sweater and some of his Hill rat friends) they had always been things I was pretty sure he wouldn't care about anyway. This night with Harry was the sort of secret that fueled the plots of Victorian novels, the sort of secret you knew would undermine the heroine's brightest prospects, the sort that ended in her dying of consumption or drowning or some other suitably anguished fate.

As Diana tries to figure out her love life, she also has to redefine her place in the family, where, among four daughters she is neither the glamorous one, the good one, nor the easygoing one. She has decide if she is willing to invest the time and energy to make her vintage clothing store productive, or if she will go back to her safe civil service job. And of course, she has to find the right outfit to wear while she's making all of these mportant decisions.

This brief but enjoyable novel is well-written, funny and touching, with plenty of witty insights into family and love relationships. Frankly, I couldn't figure out why it took Diana so long to reach the obvious conclusion about the men in her life, but then she probably hadn't read as many romance novels as I have. In fact, Cupid and Diana isn't all that different from a traditional romance novel. It maddens me that a little bit of literary packaging and a trendy, cosmopolitan setting can make this novel "legitimate" in the publishing world, while so many similarly talented romance novelists face ridicule and derision. I wish I could hate Cupid and Diana for so effortlessly passing itself off as "real fiction," but it's so warm-hearted and humorous that I couldn't help enjoying it.

--Susan Scribner


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