Hand-Me-Down by Lee Nichols
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, PG) ISBN 0-373-89523-2
Frequently in books with two sisters one is considered “the pretty one” while the other is “the smart one.”  What happens when there is a third sister?  You get Anne Olsen who considers herself “the screwed up one.”

Anne is the youngest of three sisters named after the Bronte sisters.  The oldest Charlotte is a swimsuit model.  The middle Emily is a pop-feminist author.  Anne is the underachiever of the family.  At twenty-nine, the longest she’s held a job is eight months and her longest relationship lasted six months.

Growing up, Anne’s things like clothes and toys were hand-me-downs from her sisters.  Which is why she is obsessed with new things.  She is so obsessed with new things that she won’t eat Oreos unless the package hasn’t been opened before.  She’s convinced antiques are a scam to make other people’s used goods sellable.

Anne’s obsession with new things has spilled over into her relationships making her commitment phobic.  Hence the short term jobs and relationship.  Anne’s rationale for it is VD – Vague Dissatisfaction.  In other words, she gets bored easily.

As a kid Anne had a crush on Charlotte’s high school boyfriend Ian.  Now Ian is back in Anne’s life as her buddy.  They go out for drinks every Thursday night.  The catch is that Anne has a boyfriend and Ian is engaged.  Anne’s boyfriend is also her boss, a realtor in Santa Barbara. Ian’s fiancée is out of town for work more than she is in town.

Anne starts to like Ian as more than just a buddy.  But Ian is an antique shop owner and Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend.  Not only does Ian love antiques (old things which carry diseases), he’s also a hand-me-down guy. 

Anne’s obsession with new things is aggravating rather than humorous.  Every time someone offers her something (food, rug, clothes, coffee mug, etc) she asks how old it is.  She tries to convince everyone she meets to buy Ikea.  At one point, she gets a brand-spanking new apartment.  No one has ever used it.  Anne nearly has an orgasm walking on the carpet than even the carpet layers didn’t walk on (due the plastic covers).

In the end in many Chick Lit novels, the heroine always seems to have an epiphany about straightening out her life.  Whether or not Anne gets hers fixed, I didn’t enjoy the journey.  Anne whined the whole way….  She’s not as good as her sisters.  She can’t find a job she likes.  She doesn’t like used things.  She’s lonely and can’t find love.  She’s not as good as her sisters… Repeat whine cycle over and over.  Anne’s continuous complaints about herself and her life is a boring read.

But the biggest flaw with Hand-Me-Down is the relationship between Anne and Ian.  Anne has a boyfriend, and Ian has a fiancée.  Reading about a couple falling in love while remaining in relationships with other people is not very appealing.  Whatever happened to emotional fidelity in addition to physical fidelity?

--Terry Lawrence

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