The English American

Alison Larkin
(Simon & Schuster)



It would not be fair to dismiss Alison Larkin's The English American out of hand for its frivolity. Everyone knows that books with large text and little subtext between their widely spaced lines make for the best bus reading, and Larkin's first novel has an easy-to-follow voice that easily accommodates the stops and starts of a fitful attention span.

Even the most distracted bus rider, though, won't fail to notice that The English American isn't easy to read because it's frivolous; it's easy to read because it's bad. Larkin's sentences unfold with such hackneyed predictability that reading each one in its entirety hardly seems necessary.

The heroine of Larkin's semi-autobiographical novel is a young woman named Pippa Dunn, who was born in America but raised in England by adoptive parents. That moniker alone should send up an immediate red flag: Such a whimsically named character will inevitably suffer from Bridget Jones Syndrome, and indeed, Pippa is a textbook case. Beautiful but clumsy, loves chocolate, romantically clueless, charmingly exuberant yet prone to making the odd harmless social gaffe.... Someone needs to send this over-used archetype back to middle school for social reconditioning.

We are informed early on that Pippa has never quite fit in with her adoptive family:

"We don't say 'I love you' in England. Not like the Americans do... Right now I wish Mum and I were American so I could tell her I love her."

When Pippa decides to track down her American birth parents, she discovers the roots of her very un-British personality in her mother's high energy and her father's charm. Her initial delight at finding her true self reflected in her parents, though, soon wanes. Her mother, at first so charismatic, soon becomes a "devouring sea monster," while her father is involved in shady-seeming international dealings. Pippa ultimately must choose between the parents who raised her and the parents who gave her birth. Guess which ones she chooses.

Larkin is apparently a funny actress with a popular one-woman comedy show. Unfortunately, a voice that might be charming onstage becomes predictable, trite, and decidedly un-fun when committed to paper.


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