The Man I Should Have Married
by Pamela Redmond Satran
(Downtown Press, $12, PG) ISBN 0-7434-6354-4
Pamela Redmond Satran co-authored the innovative baby name book, Beyond Jennifer and Jason, so it’s no surprise that she chooses unusual names for the hero and heroine of her first novel. With that exception, The Man I Should Have Married offers little new on the Chick Lit front, but it’s a well-written and entertaining debut.

Four months ago, Kennedy Burns’ husband Frank left her for another woman, but she hasn’t yet fully accepted her new status as a single woman with two children. Her 15 year old daughter Maya is a bundle of adolescent attitude who has decided it’s time to locate her biological father, a handsome Latino who was Kennedy’s lover until his drug dealing became intolerable. Back then, Kennedy was a hip chick who happily lived on the edge of poverty in New York City while working as a waitress at McGlynn’s Bar. After she finally dumped Maya’s unstable father, Kennedy met the steady if dull attorney Frank. But before she married him and moved to New Jersey, she had an amazing one-night stand with her boss, Declan McGlynn. She chose Frank over the ladies man Declan, and never looked back. But now, 10 years later, Kennedy wonders if she can reclaim the brave, risk-taking woman she used to be before she became a suburban housewife.

During a trip to New York City, Kennedy makes an impromptu decision to stop by McGlynn’s. Declan is still there, and the two quickly realize that their attraction is still very much alive. But there’s no easy happily-ever-after for these two characters with the cool names. Kennedy has to deal with a meddlesome mother, a rebellious teenager, an ex-husband who isn’t quite out of the picture, financial uncertainty and a new house that can charitably be called a “rat hole.” Plus Declan has a few surprises up his sleeve, and not all of them are pleasant.

Kennedy is a likeable if standard Chick Lit heroine who wisecracks through her pain and yearns to find a fulfilling career as much as she dreams of a long-term relationship with the right man. She’s a good mother to her two very different children, although I frequently wanted her to slap the sullen Maya, who thinks nothing of calling her stepfather a “dickhead” or having sex with her boyfriend in her bedroom closet. It was difficult for me to identify with this permissive type of parenting, although as Kennedy admits, Maya is engaging in the same risky behavior that she did at the same age (and that makes it okay?).

The relationship between Kennedy and Declan is somewhat problematic, as there are too many episodes of Declan pushing and Kennedy holding back, followed by Kennedy forging ahead but Declan putting up roadblocks. By the third or fourth time this happened I started to despair that their relationship would ever work out in the long run.

But I was happy for Kennedy when she winds up with a charmingly renovated house, a promising new career and a diverse but fully-functioning blended family after realizing that there really are second chances to grab life’s brass ring. Pamela Redmond Satran definitely has more literary talent than just listing creative baby names, and she launches the Downtown Press line with admirable success.

--Susan Scribner

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