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Book Report: Personal ads can equal a good book

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Several years ago I reviewed a book written by an acquaintance called "Round-Heeled Woman."

It told her story about being divorced, deep into middle age when she got the bright idea of advertising herself in the classified section of the New York Review of Books.

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She announced that "Before I turn 67 -- next March -- I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first (novelist Anthony) Trollope works for me."

She got lots of responses and wrote about her experiences with many of them whom she hooked up with.

The novel made news in outfits like Time magazine. It got a very nasty review in another newspaper from this region.

I sort of liked it, and so I looked forward to reading a book of fiction which began in a similar manner.

"An Available Man," by Hilma Wolitzer (Ballantine Books, $25) opens when the hero, Edward Schuyler, a 62-year-old prep school science teacher loses his wife of many years, a comfortable woman named Bee who brought to the wedding kids from an earlier marriage.

Schuyler seems to be getting along just fine, but his stepchildren, now grown, worry about his loneliness so, without his permission, they place a classified ad in guess what publication?

Right.

The New York Review of Books, which is somewhat notorious for these ads that would normally belong in an alternative newspaper.

They say something like "Handsome, well-fixed classics professor would like to meet and date middle-aged woman who has a passion for James Joyce and Coquilles St. Jacques and Madeleines. Object: Lusty and no strings-attached sex." The ad they put in for Schuyler was considerably more modest:

"Science Guy. Erudite and kind, balding but handsome. Our widowed dad is the real thing for the right woman. Jersey/Metropolitan New York."

Modest, yes.

But not pleasing to Schuyler who is already being bombarded by well-meaning neighbors who line him up at uncomfortable dinner parties that usually end up in disaster.

He seems content to miss his wife Bee and consoles himself by ironing her clothes because "...it was oddly comforting to smooth the wrinkles out of her blouses, to restore their collapsed bosoms and sleeves and hang them in her closet, where they looked orderly, expectant."

The Science Guy ad irritates Schuyler still further because it reminds him of Bee, who used to exult in reading similar ads to him with witty commentary (Bee is funnier than Schuyler):

"'Sensual, smart, stunning, sensitive' Oh, why do they always resort to alliteration? ...searching for the special someone to share Bach, Brecht, and Breakfast' when they'll probably eat bagels, bacon, and Brussels sprouts."

But the phone calls came flooding in and Schuyler, who is even polite to phone solicitors finds himself dating a variety of women, chapter by chapter, including one woman who manages to get him into her bedroom with the help of plastic surgery.

But don't expect this to be a round-heeled man sort of novel.

A woman named Laurel, who had been the love of his life before she dumped him, after which he married Bee, pops into the picture and you think Oh-oh.

This may be the one.

Not so.

You'll have to read the book to see how this charming, very funny and heartwarming novel turns out.

Three novels to round out easy fireside reading:

My favorite is "Glass Asylum" (North Star Press, $14.95, paper) by JoAnn Bren Guernsey, a McKnight Artist Fellowship recipient. Minnesota's McKnight Foundation got its money's worth on this one.

Guernsey is a very accomplished writer, witty, thoughtful. She tells the story of how the act of writing can be redemptive as her heroine comes through a nightmare of self-doubt and disappointment.

"Lethal," (Grand Central Publishing, $14.99), is Sandra Brown's 16th bestseller and involves Honor Gillette, whose daughter discovers a sick man lying on their front lawn.

He turns out to be not only a murderer but a friend of her late husband Eddie, who has stashed a treasure that a big time crime boss would give his eye teeth for.

"Blinded By The Sight," by S.L. Smith (North Star Press, $14.95 is a police procedural based in St. Paul and begins when a homeless man is found dead alongside the Mississippi River wearing a knockout diamond. It's the first outing for Smith who has created detective lieutenant Pete Culnane.

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