British author Sue Margolis made a splash a few years ago with her debut novel, Neurotica, the tale of a Jewish woman seeking sexual bliss through adultery when her husband’s hypochondria obliterated his sex drive. I don’t think Spin Cycle will have the same impact Once the initial shock value of a raunchy Jewish female wears off, you’re left with little more than a very slight Brit Chick novel.
Despite the objections of her parents and fiancé, Rachel Katz has relinquished her journalism career and is now seeking fame and fortune as a stand up comedienne. To supplement her meager income, Rachel works as a maid for Otto and Xantia Marx, an up-and-coming interior design couple whose house looks like it was conceived “by a couple of thirtieth-century androids who had just won the lottery.” Rachel’s dentist fiancé, Adam, is pressuring her to set a marriage date so they can take advantage of year-end tax benefits (uh-oh, you know he’s doomed to be dumped), but Rachel just can’t take that final step towards marital bliss. Then one day the washing machine breaks at the Marx’s home, and Rachel meets Matt, a sexy repairman who gets Rachel’s juices flowing.
There is the little matter of the fiancé to deal with, which is conveniently resolved when Adam takes an extended trip to South Africa. Besides cheating on her fiancé, there are a few other items keeping Rachel up at night. Her 10-year-old son has developed an obsession with Barbra Streisand, and Rachel worries that he’s been spending too much time with her gay ex-husband. Rachel’s best friend is pregnant, and nowhere near reliable enough to be a single mother. Rachel’s parents have been acting stranger than usual lately. And to top it all off, Rachel’s potential ticket to stardom, a stand-up comedy contest broadcast live on national television, is only a few short weeks away.
Let’s get the romance out of the way, since it’s easily the weakest aspect of the plot. On the one hand we have a gorgeous handyman who also happens to be a college graduate working on a washing machine that can be used in Third World countries. On the other hand we have an obsessive-compulsive dentist who likes to offer around dental floss at dinner parties and whose idea of a great gift for Rachel is a plastic shoe tree. Hmmm, what do you think? Even Friends’ Rachel had a tougher choice between her boring dentist fiancé and Ross. There’s just no suspense there at all. Rachel and Matt have an initial token sparring match - this is romantic comedy after all - but very soon they are making passionate love in much detail and declaring their love for each other. There’s only a weak conflict thrown in at the end to keep them apart for a few pages, then they are happily snogging again in explicitly sexual scenes that are surprisingly dull.
The other subplots of the novel are much more cleverly executed than the romance. Why is Rachel’s Mum meeting with strange men at restaurants, yet her father doesn’t seem concerned? Where do the Marxes disappear to within their showcase avant-garde home while Rachel cleans? Will Rachel ever meet Matt’s slacker roommate whose latest “surefire” breakthrough is a breakfast food called “Imperial Cereal”? Pursuing the answer to these questions kept me reading through the book’s slim 250 pages when the romance had totally lost my interest.
Margolis is a very funny writer. There are quite a few hilarious one-liners and amusing scenes. Rachel’s comedy routines are entertaining, although it’s difficult to see why she is supposed to be head and shoulders above the other comedians. But funny isn’t enough to sustain a novel. Maybe the author has her own secret desire to be a stand-up comedienne and should give up her writing career for the microphone. I don’t believe the literary world would miss her inordinately, and she might be the next Tracey Ullman. But, to steal a line from that wonderful comic actress, if you’re standing in a bookstore, wondering if you should purchase Spin Cycle, my advice for you would be to Go Home! Go Home! instead.