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A Catered Affair
by Sue Margolis
(NAL, $14, R) ISBN 978-0451233356
Sue Margolis occupies a unique literary niche – raunchy British-Jewish Chick Lit books. They’re not particularly well-written, but as a Jewish woman I feel a certain loyalty to keeping this narrow genre alive. Her latest release, A Catered Affair, offers more in the same vein as her previous novels.

Tallulah “Tally” Roth is a month away from marrying the man of her dreams – a nice Jewish doctor named Josh. Although he has lifelong commitment issues stemming from his father’s abandonment of the family, Josh assures Tally that he is ready to take the next step in their relationship. Tally is thrilled that this part of her life is going so smoothly, because other aspects are out of control. Her widowed mother insists on talking to people in crisis who call her phone number, even though they are actually trying to reach the local hotline, which is one digit away. Her best friend Rosie is now a single mom to a toddler and a newborn, as well as an aspiring (and god-awful) writer. Her lesbian sister is trying to break into the stand-up comedy business and have a child with her black partner. Tally’s job as a human rights attorney is usually very rewarding, but she is currently handling a tough case involving an outspoken Iranian woman whose life may be in jeopardy if she is deported back to her homeland.

Josh’s commitment issues make a blazing return on their wedding day, and he never shows up at the synagogue. According to Tally, Jewish women are rarely left at the altar – not because it would be mortifying, but because it would dishonor the parents who have shelled out big bucks to host the affair. But sadly, she is one of the statistical few, and she has no choice but to grieve and move on. Luckily Tally has a great support system, and before long she has several new love life possibilities, including an old boyfriend who has moved back to the UK from Australia, and the caterer from the doomed wedding.

This is the second Sue Margolis novel I’ve read that includes a major character who wants to be a comedienne (the first was the heroine from Spin Cycle), and I continue to believe that the author is a better joke-teller than a writer. A Catered Affair features some funny (often crude) scenes, such as Tally’s frantic search for cauliflower for Rosie’s mastitis, her attempts to help a client suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome keep his job, and her Nana Ida’s old Jewish lady malapropisms. Margolis’ attempts to give Tally’s romantic dilemma some psychological weight are heavy-handed, and her narrative style is serviceable but graceless. And don’t get me started on the sex – thank goodness there is only one love scene, because it reads like an instruction manual and is anything but erotic. I’d say the numerous subplots distract from the romance, but in fact the subplots are more entertaining than the predictable choice between the stuffy guy who’s perfect on paper and the cute caterer without a college degree who makes her laugh, cry and climax. Tally is a bright, caring, competent woman – why does it take her 374 pages to figure out the obvious answer?

A Catered Affair is Margolis’ ninth novel released in the US, so apparently I’m not the only reader who finds her work to be a guilty pleasure. If you aren’t in the market for literary brilliance and just want something bawdy and fun, her books may fit the bill.

--Susan Scribner

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