Dan McDowell is a thirty-three-year-old commercial photographer three years into a comfortable relationship with Jane. They both are, if not ambitious, gainfully employed, well-mannered and appropriate. Dan seems quite content to continue to take pictures of school children, Jane to crunch numbers at a real estate firm, both seem satisfied with routine monogamous sex and enjoy Jane’s homemade pie afterwards. They neither have the will nor inclination to do anything about the boring middle-class trap that’s about to ensnare them.
Indeed, that very evening they’re discussing the inevitable – marriage – when Dan lets slip that three years ago, he had sex with his former girlfriend during the transitional period before he and Jane were “exclusive”.
Jane freaks and throws him out of their cozy two-bedroom bungalow where he conveniently crosses the lawn and becomes ensconced in the spare bedroom of his good friend and neighbour, Bob.
What’s with Jane, Dan wonders, and true to his even-tempered, considerate personality gives her some space and time until she accepts that his transgression is nothing compared to the mundane existence they can share moving forward.
Five weeks later Jane is still intransigent, and Dan is becoming a tad impatient. Surprisingly, so are his parents. His reply to their inquiries about his relationship provokes a grumpy response from his father, Big Jim, “You’re dealt a hand and you play it. End of story.”, which has enough subliminal meaning to upset his mother, Esther.
When Dan tells his sister, Lucy, she divulges that the subtext of that conversation has to do with a manuscript she and her mother discovered of a heartbreaking story Big Jim wrote about being dumped by his “soul mate” Barbara from Oakland right after he finished college and eight years before he married their mom.
Perhaps it’s the precarious state of Dan’s own relationship or maybe it’s just that he’s such a sensitive guy, but this romantic illusion resonates, and unimaginative Dan begins to imagine he and Jane maybe aren’t cosmically bonded and what does that mean for their future?
This flight of adolescent flakiness takes a dramatic turn when Big Jim suffers a stroke and in that interim period when brain synapses are scrambled, aand recovery is still in question he utters a strangled plea for someone to “caa…baaa…baaa”.
For some reason, Dan assumes his father, who’s been as happily married to Esther as one can reasonably hope to be after forty years, is calling out for Barbara from Oakland.
This sets the stage for Dan’s frantic week-long quest in the other city by the bay for his father’s enigmatic soul mate. What he hopes to achieve if he finds her is never clear, but he has “to do something that might actually have some impact”. The resulting impact of this misadventure is more bizarre than meaningful.
If you think this preamble into Hysterical Love, by Lorraine Devon Wilke, is complicated then you have some idea of how convoluted the story is. Though cohesive, the narrative is rambling and impeded by long passages of moralizing dialogue and redundant reflection most of which is self-evident to any mature adult.
Major plot points such as Jane’s reason for ejecting her fiancé from their relationship and their domicile, the discovery and significance that Big Jim had his young heart broken eight years before he married Esther, the motive behind the search for Barbara from Oakland, and the improbable hookup with a love goddess named Fiona, really stretched this reader’s suspension of disbelief.
Perhaps most unconvincing is the protagonist who is immature, hypersensitive, prone to histrionics, one would imagine, almost devoid of testosterone. At one point, when he is turning down a zipless encounter with the unimaginably attractive, sexy, and oh so willing Fiona, the virtuous Dan declares “…tonight, I want to be sure we’re honestly in synch with each other”, then doubles down by affirming “Yep, I’d become the girl. The girl who didn’t want to get down to it until she knew it “meant something.”
Was it the author’s intention to convey feminine sensibilities in a male character or is she just having a difficult time writing from a male perspective?
Considering a protagonist like Dan, you might think character growth and development would be easy and extensive. But no, he’s the same milquetoast at the end as he was at the beginning. It’s as if Wilke considered him fully formed with no need to change or improve.
Sometimes pushing the boundaries of genre works, like writing chick lit from a male perspective, but in this case of Hysterical Love, it’s still chick lit only without the chick.