Sylvie Jacobsen is a 43-year-old accountant looking to fund her travel-writing passion by penning a cheesy romance novel. Her money-making scheme proves more difficult than she thought as she dives into the strange waters of online dating to conduct research. But is it only fictional love she’s looking to explore?
SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE has the quality of sunlight on the tropical blue water that surrounds its island setting. It’s pleasing to look at, but you can’t help but wonder what lies beneath the waves. The novel has a fun premise and Sylvie is a charmingly self-deprecating narrator. It’s fun to join her as she stumbles through the absurd rituals of female grooming and online-dating: applying face-masks, practicing walking in high heels, writing a how-to-flirt cheat sheet on her wrist for a date.
Author Melissa Burovac’s sense of humor sustains the narrative. The back-and-forth between Sylvie and her friend and dating-guide, Colleen, is believably witty and friendly. (“No one’s gonna smell you through a picture,” Colleen says when Sylvie asks if she should shower before her dating-profile photo shoot.) Burovac also mines the contrast between Sylvie’s romance-novel fantasies and awkward real-life dates to great comedic effect.
The only thing missing is a greater sense of the inner lives behind the banter. Having a deeper sense of why Sylvie has waited until 43 to learn how to apply eye-liner and why her sub-conscious has picked this particular moment to send her on a quest for love would have made me more invested in her story. Burvoac does mention some past failed relationships, but it seems like a generic explanation rather than a character study that matches the detail afforded to Sylvie’s newly learned grooming routines.
Similarly, it would have been helpful to have know more about Sylvie’s potential suitors. Her dates keep going wrong because of almost slapstick mishaps, which are funny to read about. But romance is ultimately about the building relationship between two unique people. Without much sense of the men in Sylvie’s life as complex individuals, it’s hard to really care which one she ends up with.
SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE is set on a Hawaiian island, and one of the pleasures of reading it is to learn how the mundane details of daily life interact with the romance of the setting. “I’ve had sex during a hike at the top of a waterfall, and it was the most unsexy thing I’ve probably ever done in my life,” Sylvie thinks at one point. As with the characters, I only wanted more about both the beauty and realities of the setting.
It’s hard to feel anything but happy after finishing SYLVIE WRITES A ROMANCE. It is a humorous story that is ultimately hopeful about our ability to connect to others and rescue ourselves from ruts along the way. Think back to that tropical water: even if you don’t have a chance to plunge in, you won’t regret watching from the shore.
~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader