Tag Archives: ” Sarah Dunn


A new novel out from Sarah Dunn is always reason to celebrate, and I was definitely excited to read The Arrangement after really enjoying her earlier novels The Big Love and Secrets to Happiness (click to read my reviews). The Arrangement has an intriguing premise: a suburban couple, Lucy and Owen, with an autistic 5 year-old and a happy if boring marriage, decide to liven things up by opening their marriage for 6 months. They agree to certain ground rules: no questions asked, no one they know, and no falling in love. What can go wrong?

The Arrangement is a smart, funny and well-written book. Dunn has a good sense of humor and an even better sense of what it’s like to be a suburban middle-aged parent, especially to a special needs child (she has one herself). Beekman, NY, where Lucy and Owen live, appears to be an idyllic destination for parents reluctantly leaving Brooklyn, but it’s a small town with its own share of tensions and pressures. And Lucy and Owen’s marriage, while not perfect, is a familiar one. They are pretty exhausted, with little emotional time for each other.

I loved this passage about how Lucy has given up certain (optional?) aspects of her life over time:


Dunn’s characters are memorable, from the eccentric billionaire in Beekman on his third wife, to the partners Lucy and Owen decide to spend “the arrangement” with, to the town’s transgender kindergarten teacher. Dunn is insightful and empathetic, and I laughed out loud and nodded in recognition often while reading The Arrangement.

Sarah Dunn is three for three, in my opinion. When is her next book coming out?


Dunn I recently finished Sarah Dunn's second novel, Secrets to Happiness. Her first book, The Big Love, was the second book I read after I started my blog in 2006, and I reviewed it here. At the time, I said, "Dunn offers up astute insights about female friendship, sex, and relationships…. [She] is a fresh, natural writer whose pages flow quickly, and whose storytelling is well-paced and surprising.  I really enjoyed this book and was sad to see it end."

I have pretty much the same things to say about Secrets to Happiness.  It's the story of a loosely connected group of New Yorkers, each of whom is seeking a happy, fulfilling relationship. Holly Frick is a divorced writer for a children's cable station; her best friend Amanda is about to embark on an affair with a single thirtysomething; her ex-boyfriend Spence has been dumped by his long-distance girlfriend because he cheated on her; her gay writing partner seeks anonymous partners online, etc. etc. etc. Pretty typical fare for a book about post- millennial New Yorkers.

But what makes Secrets to Happiness so surprisingly good are Dunn's insights, humor, eloquence, and powers of observation. She's very funny (and as a result, her characters are similarly quick with the jokes), and her books are readable and entertaining. Despite their faults, they are likeable and easy to relate to. Here is a passage I especially liked:

West End Avenue has a very distinctive feel, especially for a street that doesn't have anything all that distinctive about it. There's no commerce to speak of at street level, and the traffic goes both ways, and the stoplights seem to take forever to change, but that isn't enough to explain the feeling. Holly always thought that it seemed oddly out of sync with time – not like it belonged in an earlier century, or even in a different decade, but more like, well, when you got there, you found yourself in side a different day of the week than the one you were in before. Like it was Wednesday on Broadway, but a few hundred feet away, over on West End, somehow, it was Sunday.

New York itself plays a large role in the book – as this passage suggests - which I particularly loved. It has been a long time since I lived there, but Sarah Dunn caught me up a little.

Secrets to Happiness is a pretty light read, but a satisfying one. Highly recommended.


My fellow book blogger Julie at Booking Mama gets a lot of books in the mail. Wow. I read through her Mailbox Monday post this week and scanned the list of books she received this week, and saw Secrets to Happiness, by Sarah Dunn. I read Dunn's The Big Love shortly after I launched this blog in 2006 (click here to see the review) and I remember liking her clever writing. Here's what Amazon has to say about Secrets to Happiness:

Dunn Holly Frick is smart and sassy, loyal and dedicated. All the qualities a woman could want in a girlfriend, but not the ones that seem to resonate with men, if her roster of failed relationships is any indicator. There’s her ex-husband, Alex, with whom she’s still in love; her ex-boyfriend, Spence, a womanizing creep whom Holly scathingly immortalized in her first novel; and Lucas, a 22-year-old boy-toy who, for all his playful sexuality, ultimately makes Holly feel like a cradle-robbing matron. But then she meets Jack, an opinionated Buddhist who is having an affair with her married best friend; and even though Holly takes an immediate dislike to him, she has to admit there’s something undeniable lurking just beneath the surface. Dunn displays a rapier wit; a perfectly nuanced gift for savvy, sophisticated dialogue; and an endearing moral compass, which she uses to great advantage as she blithely navigates the fraught and fatuous world of trendy New York’s treacherous dating scene.

Although it looks like we're safely in chick lit territory, I had this to say about her first book: "Sarah Dunn is too talented, too offbeat, and too funny to be lumped in with the rest of the writers who churn out generic chick lit fare… I can't wait for her next book."

Kathy at BermudaOnion's Weblog didn't love Secrets to Happiness – she thought it was confusing and too much of a soap opera.

Keep This On The DL blog liked the book a lot. Here's what she said:

As I wrote the above paragraph it sounds an awful lot like chick-lit. Which is weird because it didn’t read like a chick lit book at all.

Secrets to Happiness is a highly character driven book…. Dunn’s writing style is catching. I know that’s a generic term, but really. It’s like you’re reading along and then all the sudden she hits you with one of those yes-it’s-just-like-that-even-though-I-never-thought-of-it-like-that-before zingers.

Example: “It was like the time her sister suggested she read Emily Dickinson to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. Once certain thoughts got into your head, you couldn’t get rid of them.”

“He had reached the point in the evening where he was regretting that he had not bothered to commit her name to memory, right about the time she rested her hand on his upper thigh.” …

I really loved this book because the writing and characters are so real. The only thing is, as soon as I closed it yesterday I found myself wondering, Was that just 277 pages of nothing happening? After thinking about it today, I’ve come to two conclusions 1) yes, nothing happened and 2) it didn’t really matter. The pace of the story was good and never felt like it was lacking.

On to the list it goes.

THE BIG LOVE by Sarah Dunn

OK, I know what you’re thinking, but this is not what it looks like.  I swear.  Yes, The Big Love, by Sarah Dunn, has a plucky, single thirtysomething heroine who works for a newspaper.  Yes, her boyfriend dumps her. Yes, she embarks on an ill-advised affair with her boss.  But I promise you, this is not standard chick lit.  Sarah Dunn is too talented, too offbeat, and too funny to be lumped in with the rest of the writers who churn out generic chick lit fare.

For starters, Dunn’s heroine/narrator, Alison Hopkins, is a reformed evangelical Christian.  Alison’s descriptions of her religious upbringing, as well as her dead-on assessment of what people think of evangelical Christians, are laugh-out-loud funny.  Ask my husband – I repeated several passages from the book to him while I was reading it, and he laughed out loud.  Through Alison, Dunn also offers up astute insights about female friendship, sex, and relationships.  Dunn is a fresh, natural writer whose pages flow quickly, and whose storytelling is well-paced and surprising.  I really enjoyed this book and was sad to see it end.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s an excerpt from a USA Today review from July 2004, when the debut novel came out:

Before you roll your eyes at yet another hackneyed hunk of chick-lit featuring the requisite eccentrically spunky heroine who gets ditched but ultimately finds true love in the unlikeliest place, give The Big Love, Sarah Dunn’s debut novel, a chance. The writing is fresh, the characters are just quirky enough without ever verging on cloying, and the ending — not to give it away — is hardly the happily-ever-after, misty-eyed Cinderella fable we’ve come to expect from those disposable Bridget Jones knockoffs.

And a few excerpts from the New York Times review (subscription required), which calls the book “a charming little pirouette of a first novel”:

Now, the ground is littered with failed attempts at I-lost-my-boyfriend comic fiction. But Ms. Dunn’s book is brighter and funnier than most, and not only because this fluff has an unusual wrinkle. Alison was raised as an evangelical Christian. She was a virgin until she was 25. And her love life is complicated by such sticking points as moral principles. ”The truth is I still can’t imagine cheating on somebody,” Alison tells the reader. ”Do I secretly think this makes me a good person? I’m afraid I do.”

[T]here’s a genuine wit at work here, and a pragmatism that seems especially wry under the circumstances….  It’s a testament to this book’s sparkle that Ms. Dunn is able to express all this in warm, good-natured fashion without raising hackles. She simply explains Alison’s reasoning and carries it to its logical conclusion.

Incidentally, Sarah Dunn was featured in the “Vows” section in the New York Times in 1999 – you can read about her wedding here (again, subscription required).

I can’t wait for her next book.