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.