Hex and the Single Girl
by Valerie Frankel
(Avon, $12.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-078557-3
****
If you think single witches have it easier than other single chicks, meet Emma Hutch. A good witch who uses her telepathic abilities to help other women jump start romance, she can't seem to hold on to a man of her own. Every time she gets close to one, he runs away screaming.

As a professional matchmaker, Emma plants images of her female clients into the minds of unwitting males. Then, she steps back and lets things take their course. After all, it's one thing to spark a man's interest; it's another thing to force him somewhere he doesn't want to go. Which may be why Emma is slightly hesitant in accepting her latest client's, Daphne Wittfield's, mandate. The advertising executive has her priorities backwards and seems to be more interested in landing an account with William Dearborn's software company than in the man himself. Worse, Emma has been experiencing alluring visions ever since she accidentally kissed the said Liam in the dark and believes he may be the one to change her run of bad luck.

But although she knows he is doing more than Prince Charming to trace down the missing Cinderella, she also needs Daphne's check to pay off her mortgage. Determined to keep her end of the bargain, she dons all kinds of different disguises - from a old lady to porn star to man - and chases him around town until she finally has the opportunity to zap him. Only then does she appear to him in her natural form. Before true love can win over psychic manipulation, Emma manages to match-make for more than one acquaintance, chase down a sleazy boyfriend for her best friend, and uncover several high- profile scams.

Emma may have magical powers, but she also has very human foibles, including a fear of resembling her mother too much, an irrational avoidance of New York subways and what she calls anorgasmia (otherwise known as frigidity). Watching her work through these phobias, with and without Liam's help, is a key part of the novel's appeal.

I occasionally had a hard time keeping track of the largish assortment of characters, and wondered more than once whether Emma had her fingers in too many pies. (Does she really have to have philosophical conversations with a Jew for Jesus? Is her witty repartee with Daphne's assistant truly relevant to the story?) My doubts were laid to rest at the end: everything ties in nicely together, and the novel concludes with more re-matched couples than A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Romance aside, Hex and the Single Girl is an urban fairy tale about the risks and benefits of tampering with others' dreams. Major and minor characters are involved in mental manipulation as psychics, visual artists, photographers, editors, non-profit lawyers, evangelists and advertising executives, but they don't always have the same intentions. Some, like Emma and Liam, use their gifts to spread a little happiness, whereas others, like Daphne, only want to satisfy their ambition. The novel hardly takes as radical a stand as Ad Busters or as philosophical an approach as Freud. Then again, it's probably a much more pleasant and light-hearted read. So crack open the cover, and let the hexing begin.

--Mary Benn


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