The Diary of V: The Affair
by Debra Kent
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61049-6
*
This is the most depressing book I have read in years. No, nobody dies and no animals are put in jeopardy. But reading 300 pages of weak, annoying characters behaving badly was a total downer. I had to engage in reality testing with my husband when I had finished the book to assure myself that genuine people donít all act this way. Yet The Diary of V, which has appeared in serial form in Redbook and at women.com, allegedly receives a quarter of a million hits each month. Why would so many women be interested in this saga? The mind boggles. But someone must think it will sell like gangbusters, because this is only the first of three Diaries that will be published between now and November.

Our titular diarist is Valerie, a therapist living in a small Midwestern college town with her playwright husband, Roger and preschool-aged son, Petey. Her husband has been in a creative funk for years, and has lost interest in sex. So Valerie starts flirting with Eddie, the handsome plant maintenance man. To her surprise, Eddie reciprocates and goes even further, indicating that heíd like to take their mutual attraction to its obvious conclusion. But Val hesitates to be unfaithful to Roger, despite her sexual frustration. Then she finds evidence that, while Roger may not be interested in making love to her, heís definitely interested in putting the moves on one of his young theater students. Still, an affair with a gardener? Even if he is sexy and even if he does listen to Valís problems, unlike her self-absorbed husband, heís so, well, coarse. Plus heís also married. Valís problems are just beginning, as she deals with marital, parenting and professional crises over the course of the next two years, all of which are chronicled in her diary.

The Diary of V is described as being ďwickedly funny,Ē but I could find no humor in the story of a woman unable or unwilling to break free of a loveless marriage. It was hard to understand how a trained therapist could justify repeated and clearly futile reconciliation attempts with a man who was obviously a lying, cheating weasel. Her whining about staying together for the sake of her son (poor Petey, I know heís going to need years of counseling) and her inability to support herself without Rogerís trust-fund money didnít garner much sympathy from me. The best plotlines deal with Valís clients and co-workers, but unfortunately they frequently take a back seat to Rogerís shenanigans.

Debra Kentís writing style is breezy and snappy, and itís easy to pick up the book, read a few diary entries, and put it back down (itís an ideal bathroom book). But the diary format is problematic too. The fact that this story was originally published in serial form means that there isnít much structure - the book reaches several climaxes before it ends abruptly, leaving the reader feeing unsatisfied (yes, thatís intentionally suggestive). Donít expect a happily-ever-after ending for Val with Eddie - in fact, donít expect much of an ending at all. A quick check of recent Diary of V installments on women.com suggest that Debra Kent is making up the plot as she goes along.

The bookís back cover enthusiastically compares The Diary of V to such literary masterpieces as Judy Blumeís Wifey and Olivia Goldsmithís The First Wives Club - both similarly depressing looks at the worst side of marriage and human nature. It also has the audacity to compare the book to Bridget Jonesís Diary. Well, it is a diary, and it is written by a female, but the similarities end there. It has neither the charm nor the humor nor the romance of Helen Fieldingís bestseller.

If you want to read about unhappy people leading unhappy lives, go ahead and buy The Diary of V, or better yet, visit the women.com website and read it on-line on a weekly basis for free. As for me, Iíll pass on the next two installments and look instead for something that doesnít leave me feeling disheartened and jaded.

--Susan Scribner


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