A Great Beach Read by San Alini, “A Husband by Midnight” — A Review
Betty Sallas is single and successful editor at a New York City publisher. She awakens on the morning of her 40th birthday in the grips of a hangover to find a hulk of guy in her kitchen, a guy who came to fix the plumbing at her mother’s request as it turns out. Something about the “intruder” in her kitchen leads Betty to decide that she is going to find a husband before the day is over. Thus begins a zany saga as she runs through, and from, a string of men in a driven search to find her soul mate.
Betty’s forays into the avenues and alleys of Manhattan are anything but organized. She starts her quest with the purchase of a $7,000 wedding dress and wears it through the day and into the night to broadcast her intentions. The gown attracts attention, becomes a conversation starter, and encumbers her flight when running away seems the only sensible thing to do. Very little that Betty does, in fact, is sensible. But she is funny, very funny. Lucille Ball somehow comes to mind. Or Sandra Bullock — perfect. Betty’s antics teeter on the brink of the absurd, but her wit and uncomplicated charm keep viewers steadfastly on her side through thick and thin.
If the story line charges headlong into unabashed silliness, author San Alini’s crackling dialogue keeps the reader engaged. A precise measure of detail in the descriptions pegs Betty’s Manhattan location from proposal to proposal and phone call to phone call as she plunges ahead driven by the conviction that everything happens for a reason. Alini’s lean writing style engenders sympathy for her character even in the most incredulous circumstances. Besides, Alini is attentive to Betty’s feelings and thoughts. “Men smell it on you when you are over 40,” Betty whines about turning 40. And then clarifies, as if she’s discovered a rare perfumed scent, “It’s desperation with a hint of sad.”
Betty has had men in her life, but her career was the overriding priority. “None of them ever got to me, got to who I truly am,” she explains at one point. In the middle of one episode, she realizes on behalf of all of her gender that “We’re programmed to like their disgustedness,” their meaning men, of course.
The men, Betty’s would-be soul mates, do not put up much of a defense for their side of the locker room. “I’m not a dangerous person. Really. . . I work in the arts,” a bank robber explains from behind his Stan Laurel mask. Turns out he is an English major. Moments later he drops his mask to reveal “… a rough sweaty face with beady eyes and sunken cheeks and a tattoo of Mao Zedong on the right cheek.”
I am probably not the best choice to write a review of this book. I don’t read books like A Husband by Midnight. I read history, you know, serious stuff (I am an English major also). “It’s a beach read,” a woman friend shouted over the din in the cafeteria where we were having breakfast. Her declaration was in response to my complaints about being utterly unacquainted with the genre. “Women read them,” she said looking up to see the blank expression my face.
I can claim two credentials. I know New York because for years I spent weeks at a time in the city in my work and got a feel for the place. I am also a writer—not widely recognized but one nevertheless who is committed to the craft.
A Husband by Midnight is a New Yorker’s tale. At one point Betty asks, “Does anybody in New York eat normal foods any more?” Later she observes, “You can’t put a tattoo on your face and not be judged.” The allusions to ethnicity also smack of the Big Apple.
San Alini’s genius is in her brevity. Short chapters. Short sentences. Quips. Everything in a novel contributes to the storyline. Nothing detracts. The book may go a guy too far with all of Betty’s encounters, as Doogal, poor creature, is acceptably sane and romantic on the streets only to turn into a maniac indoors. But then what’s the point in raising questions of credibility when the plot dodges the ridiculous by less than half a block at every turn.
I hate assigning stars as a way of registering a degree of approval. For sheer audacity, hilarity, imagination, drama and crisp writing style, I would award A Husband by Midnight five stars—a best of genre if you will. It won’t go down as a momentous contribution to the literary traditions of the western hemisphere, but it could make a summer memorable in moments that might otherwise be soon forgotten from reading, you know, serious stuff.
A Husband by Midnight is available i the Kindle version through Amazon.
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