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The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (2009)

Here is a great beach read: a light, and bright, and sparkling comedy of manners with little profanity and no graphic sex. Here is the story: A buttoned-up, divorced gay man meets up with his former step-daughter Thalia, an aspiring actress, and falls in love, in a familial way. To further the plot, he meets the true love of his life (Todd) and reconnects with his wacky ex, Thalia’s mother Denise. The story is mainly about Thalia’s adventures as the faux fiance of a D-list actor who is trying to improve his image. Denise’s ongoing feud with her daughter and step-sons and Todd’s belated coming out to his mother round out the action.

Lipman writes chick lit in the same way as Jane Austen. Like Austen, Lipman is gently satirical and sometimes subtly cruel in her examination of contemporary customs and mores. Her novels usually have serious intent hidden under frothy skirts. The underlying theme of this novel is prostitution. This theme is multiply manifest running from Denise’s penchant for marital infidelity with rich men, through Thalia’s slutty hook-ups and her willingness to sell herself for a mention on Page Six, to the way Todd uses his personality to sell housewares at retail. Every one is for sale in one way or another. And like Austen’s as well, this story has the kind of ending where everything finds its proper place and order reigns.

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