What initially attracted me to ‘The Hypothetical Girl’ was the title. Or, at the very least, I find the sentiment behind the title appealing. Despite being in the latter half of my twenties, I have no idea ‘who I am’. I’m okay with this, as I don’t believe anyone is one thing. What I struggle with, in particular, is the idea of identity and perception. What defines us? Is it our profession? Our political leanings? Our favorite movie? Our hobbies? Our relationship status?
Because, by profession, I am a librarian, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard that I don’t look like a librarian, I’d be wealthy. I lean so far left that I’m in danger of falling over and I’m fairly certain if you tell me your favorite movie is Batman and Robin, we aren’t going to be friends. And because I struggle with a rather contrary nature, I can’t help but wonder if my preference for typically masculine things is due to my appearing particularly feminine. As for defining one’s self by relationship status, that is the topic of ‘The Hypothetical Girl’ by Elizabeth Cohen.
This collection of short stories deals with the world of online dating and the search for human connection in the modern world. The set-up to each story is simple and, to a point, effective. Introduce lonely woman, introduce potential mate, potential couple fails and the woman is let down. While each of the stories is different, at their core they are very similar. There’s an actress and an Icelandic Yak farmer, a deer and a polar bear (proving love does take all forms…via Skype), and love developing through common passions. There are limericks, texts, and emails exchanged all in the pursuit of true love.
While the set-up can be effective, it is also repetitive. Nearly every story is similar and by the end of the collection, the effect is disheartening and, quite frankly, borders on bitter and depressing. The women were more concerned with the men who claim to love them (from afar) than they were with their own desires. I strongly prefer the idea of equal partnerships and while this may be naïve, it is what I expect and what I accept. I couldn’t relate to the women in the stories, save their desire for love and human connection – which I believe is nearly universal. I did enjoy the online aspect of the collection. In a world where social media and online presence is so prolific, I think it’s interesting to look at what can happen when you misrepresent yourself to a person you’re claiming to fall in love with – essentially love, lies, and the internet, if you will. While the collection as a whole didn’t work for me, the story “Limerance” is a highlight (falling in love over limericks), as is “Love Quiz”.
In a world where modern technology is the dominant form of communication, I think a collection like this is relevant, even if its appeal is lost on me. The stories are well-written, occasionally funny, and, in brief segments, poetic, but my enjoyment was hindered by my lack of sympathy for the women and bitter endings of the relationships. I’ve never ventured into the world of online dating, so perhaps the depressing endings are reflective of reality. I simply don’t know. I do know that two of my coworkers and one close friend have met their spouses via online dating, so it certainly seems like it can be an effective tool. 2.5/5.
Of note, I often talk to people I know online more frequently than I talk to the people I know in real life. It’s odd, but there’s a certain convenience and ease to online communication. Is anyone else guilty of this?
Does anyone else ever feel hypothetical? Are we defined or perceived a certain way by what we like? Because I don’t want to be defined by my love of Flashdance or Pretty in Pink – though I’m team Ducky all the way.
I try to walk that fine line between too much and not enough personal information. This post definitely leans towards the former, so thanks for bearing with me. Because this novel features a lot of bitter disappointments (and no food I want to feature), I’m recommending comfort food – pasta with roasted tomatoes.
*I received a digital review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.