Friday, February 18, 2011

The Ex Boyfriend Handbook by Matt Dunn

Plot: Edward has just been dumped after ten years by Jane.  He's at a loss for what he should be doing now, and finds himself spilling his guts to Dan-his best friend- and Wendy- the local barmaid- and asking their advice. They have three months to get Dan into half the shape he was ten years before when he first met Jane. They hire a personal trainer, a decorator, and set him up on speed dates. Soon, Edward is changing not just his outer self but his inner self as well.

A light approach to a serious topic, how we view ourselves and how we relate to others.

What seems at first like a down on your luck buddy story, turns into a journey of self for the lead character. The pitfalls of no longer knowing who you really are, and what you are brave enough to try, interweave with questions "who are your real friends" and "what do you have to loose" ?

You sympathize with Edward through the course of the novel and want to strangle Dan. There are moments when, as a reader, you are wanting to point out how Dan's insults could be seen as a form of truly holding Edward down, which are then balanced out by Dan's actual helping him out of his own shadow.

There is a scene near the beginning of the novel, when the lead Edward is telling his friends what it was like the first time he dated Jane years before in college, on how he trailed after her to the bar and did as she asked.  It sets a tone for the remainder of the novel as far as how Edward lets himself be part of relationships. You see his little to no self worth until he starts to see his own reflection in mirrors, seeing for the first time, himself through the eyes of others.
But it is in fact, a conversation with a homeless man, Billy, that wakes him up. As Billy points out, he might not have a proper place to live, but he's living a proper life because he's doing it with his dignity intact.

The other lead is actually Dan. The television star playboy who without even trying, goes through a growth of his own, admitting his own fears and flaws along the way. We see him go from the hottest thing in the area to realizing he really wants what Edward had. Stability.

Through the course of the three months that the story rapidly moves, you are asked to witness the growth, the understanding, and the desperation that Edward must go through to get to the finish line. Using the metaphor of his training runs as his goal and his backdrop, we see ourselves in his earning his own levels of confidence.  As he starts off with one goal- to get Jane back at all costs- he comes out of his shell and starts to understand he's really doing this for another goal -to get his own power back.
In the end he realizes he's better then the one who left him and in a better place because of it.

What Bridget Jones' Diary brought to women  ExBoyfriend Handbook brings to men. Delightful, honest, witty and always fabulous.

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