The Thin Pink Line
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published by Red Dress Ink
304 pages, 2003
How One Character's Worst Choices Are A Novelist's Best Ones
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
As the husband of a woman who once used pregnancy tests, I was intrigued when I came across a new novel called The Thin Pink Line. I think it was the cover photograph of the test result stick that got me. (Full disclosure: My wife and I have two kids, so I know something about these result sticks.)
Anyway, though intrigued, I was expecting a lot less than this novel delivered. I was expecting something drab, something lifeless, something I could start and then dismiss after a few chapters.
On the contrary, Pink Line is a first novel unlike any I've come across in a long time. Not only is it genuinely funny, it's also well-written and very enjoyable to read.
It's about a young British woman named Jane Taylor. One day Jane finds that she's pregnant. As an assistant editor at a London publishing house, Jane lives a life filled with wants: she wants Trevor, her live-in guy, to fall madly in love with and marry her; she wants to discover the next best-selling novelist; she wants to feel somehow special. Lo and behold, the moment she announces her impending motherhood, her colleagues treat her with a certain deference. That feels good, and Jane likes it. She finds that she wants more of it.
When it turns out her pregnancy was a false alarm, she panics. How can she hold on to her newfound respect? Her newfound special status? How can she told on to Trevor? The answer: continue with her pregnancy, baby or not. Complicated? Sure. A bad choice? No question. Worth the trip? Absolutely.
The setup is as easy as that. Now, before you write this off as Chick Lit or Brit Lit, let me tell you that it's really neither of those things. Let's pretend for a moment that neither of those two genres exist. Let's pretend that this is just one of those really great novels that comes along that defies every genre that it seems to fit so perfectly into -- because it does. In many ways, this is more a comedy of manners. It's what Jane Austen might have written if she were working today.
The Thin Pink Line, defiant novel, then, is about how Jane becomes defiant heroine. Just as she defies all sense and sensibility to fake a pregnancy, this novel defies categorization. As I said, it's funny. But it's also pretty shocking, in terms of what happens and the characters who populate Jane's world. Jane's sister and mother, for example, are real pieces of work. I'm hard pressed to tell you which is more despicable. Jane's best friend, the gay David, who lives upstairs, is charming, and so is his lover. Trevor, the boyfriend who vanishes early on, is as shallow and callow as you might expect. From the start, he's less than thrilled at the notion of being a father; when Jane breaks the news, his response is more along the lines of standing by her -- but love never comes a-calling. And then there are Jane's colleagues at work: catty, climbing girls who'd just as soon stab you as air-kiss your cheek.
The most surprising thing about this book is that it paints Jane as someone you don't want to like. After all, she's faking something that other women would give their arms to have for real. But, outlined here, it's really an easy thing to do, faking a pregnancy; all one must do is study that pregnancy bible, What To Expect When You're Expecting, and it'll tell you everything you need to know. It's really a how-to, in the end, a survival guide, and Jane uses it for all it's worth.
But despite all she does that you would never do -- in other words, as she becomes more and more a character -- Jane becomes a girl you don't want to hate. You actually root for her. You want her to get away with it. As the book's narrator, she's got a unique, funny voice, and the book comes off more as a confessional between best girlfriends than a novel. Reading it, you feel like you're right there in Jane's inner circle. You may want to yell at her, shake her silly, knock some sense into her, but you're there, committed to her and all her foibles. This is just how my wife and her own best girlfriends are. Despite all of Jane's maneuvering and scheming and downright bad choices, you like her. Think Lucy Ricardo, that other lovable schemer.
Funny, isn't it, how a character's worst choices are a writer's best ones?
What I liked most about The Thin Pink Line is that it's one of those books you want to share with other people. It's not life-altering, but it's so much fun you want other people to have that same experience. It's a great ride, and at the end I was a little sad knowing that there's nothing else to read yet. With this book, Lauren Baratz-Logsted took her characters and her story to places I just didn't think of, and in my book that's terrific. I'm sure, having said that, the book itself will take its author to places she hasn't thought of. Personally, I can't wait for her next book. And I guess that's the very pleasing result when, as a reader, you don't get what you're expecting. | November 2003
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse. At night he works on another novel and a screenplay. Days, he writes advertising copy in Lawrenceville, NJ, where he lives with his wife and sons.