A Promising Man (and About Time, Too)
by Elizabeth Young
(Avon, $13.95, PG) ISBN 0-06-050784-5
I have a daughter who is in Middle School and most of the time she acts more maturely than the heroine of this novel. We’re talking about a 28 year-old woman who gets all of her information (and misinformation) about the man she fancies from her friends, instead of directly asking the male in question. A woman who agonizes over the meaning of said bloke’s smallest word or look. I hear about that type of melodrama often enough from my 12 year old, but at least she’s got a valid excuse. Elizabeth Young should know better.

Our alleged adult characters meet one drizzly December afternoon. Harriet is scouring London for Christmas presents when she sees Nina, a glamorous but bitchy former classmate who always has a gorgeous guy on her arm. The current specimen is particularly yummy - tall, charming and well-dressed. No is more surprised than Harriet when Nina departs in a cab and the yummy boyfriend starts up a conversation with Harriet about an unusual object they both notice in a store window. When Harriet realizes she has lost her wallet, the handsome and considerate boyfriend offers to lend her cab fare. Almost immediately, Harriet finds herself madly infatuated with John Mackenzie, her rescuer, but afraid to act on the attraction because he belongs to Nina. She thinks the spark may be mutual, but why doesn’t he say something about having a girlfriend? Or why doesn’t he break it off with Nina? Harriet becomes more and more confused as John pursues her. Either he’s two-timing Nina, in which case he is a cad, or there’s something more to the story.

Unfortunately for both John and the reader, Harriet never actually comes out and asks him just what the bloody hell is going on here. Instead, she hints, hoping he’ll make a disclosure. She asks advice from her flatmates, Sally and Jacko. She gets the low-down from her friend Rosie who is a friend of Nina’s best friend Suzanne (got that?) She agonizes over whether it might okay to return John’s affections because, after all, Nina was always unkind to her. But she never addresses the problem directly. Well, of course not, otherwise we’d have no reason for a 400 page novel, would we?

There are a few less than memorable subplots featuring Harriet’s friends and family, but nothing that allow the reader to gloss over the fact that the character we’re supposed to identify with and admire acts like a 12 year old for most of the novel. The allegedly evil Nina is barely a presence, which weakens Harriet’s case as a wronged party. Poor John seems like a nice guy who deserves better than Harriet’s hot-and-cold act as she alternates between flirtation when she momentarily forgets that John is already taken, and withdrawal as she feels pangs of guilt for filching someone else’s guy.

The plot would also be more palatable if the writing style were notable, but it’s standard chatty first-person British Chick Lit narrative. There are scattered amusing lines and scenes, but nothing remarkable that enabled me to overlook the other weaknesses. I give the book a few extra points for Harriet’s comparison of Nina to the witch in the Narnia Chronicles, but even that metaphor is sadly underutilized.

Add in a horribly embarrassing cover of his-and-hers underwear on a clothesline, and you’ve got a book that is easy to avoid. Unless you have to read each and every British author who crosses the Atlantic, I’d suggest that you skip this one.

Susan Scribner


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