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Romantic Comedy (Reese's Book Club)

A Novel

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Best Seller
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • A comedy writer thinks she’s sworn off love, until a dreamy pop star flips the script on all her assumptions—a “smart, sophisticated, and fun” (Oprah Daily) novel from the author of Eligible, Rodham, and Prep.
 
“Full of dazzling banter and sizzling chemistry.”—People
 
“If you ever wanted a backstage pass to Saturday Night Live, this is the book for you.”—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, NPR, USA Today, BuzzFeed, PopSugar, Harper’s Bazaar, Real Simple, She Reads, New York Post


Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life.

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called The Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman.

Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right?

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.
© Jenn Ackerman
Curtis Sittenfeld is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels including Rodham, Eligible, Prep, American Wife, and Sisterland, as well as the collection You Think It, I’ll Say It. Her novels have been translated into thirty languages. In addition, her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post Magazine, Esquire, and The Best American Short Stories, for which she has also been the guest editor. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, and Vanity Fair, and on public radio’s This American Life. View titles by Curtis Sittenfeld
Chapter 1

April 2018


Weekly Schedule for The Night Owls

Monday 1 p.m. pitch meeting with guest host

Tuesday 5 p.m. start of all-night writing session

Wednesday 12 p.m. deadline for submitted sketches

Wednesday 3 p.m. table read of submitted sketches

Wednesday 9 p.m. preliminary show lineup posted internally

Wednesday night–Saturday morning rehearsals; scripts revised; sets built; special effects designed; hair, makeup, and costumes chosen and created; pre-tapes shot

Saturday 1 p.m. run-through of show

Saturday 8 p.m. dress rehearsal before a live audience

Saturday 11:30 p.m. live show before a new audience

Sunday 1:30 a.m. first after-party

Monday, 1:10 p.m.

For the meeting that marked the official start of that week’s show, I planned to pitch two sketches. But I had three ideas—you could write and submit more but pitch only two—so I’d play by ear which ones I went with, depending on how the guest host reacted to the pitches preceding mine. About forty writers, cast members, and producers were crammed into the seventeenth-floor office of the show’s creator and executive director, Nigel Petersen. Nigel’s seventeenth-floor office—not to be confused with his office on the eighth floor, adjacent to the studio where the show was filmed—was both well-appointed and never intended as a meeting place for anywhere close to forty people. This meant that Nigel sat behind his desk, the host sat in a leather armchair, a few lucky staffers nabbed a place on the sole couch, and everyone else leaned against the wall or sat on the floor.

Nigel started by introducing the host, who, as happened about once per season, was also that week’s musical guest. Noah Brewster had twice in the past been the musical guest, but this was his first time hosting. He was a cheesily handsome, extremely successful singer-songwriter who specialized in cloying pop music and was known for dating models in their early twenties. Though he looked like a surfer—piercing blue eyes, shaggy blond hair and stubble, a big toothy grin, and a jacked body—I’d learned by reading the host bio we were emailed each Monday morning that he’d grown up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. He was thirty-six, the same age I was, and had been famous ever since releasing the hit “Making Love in July” more than fifteen years before, when I was in college. “Making Love in July” was a paean to respectfully taking the virginity of a long-haired girl with “glowy skin,” “a pouty mouth,” and “raspberry nipples,” and it was one of those songs that had for a year played so often on the radio that, in spite of finding it execrable, I accidentally knew all the words. In the time since then, Noah Brewster had won many awards and sold more than twenty million albums, a figure I also had learned from his host bio. It was not a coincidence that his tenth album was being released the following week; hosts, musical guests, and the combinations therein were usually either celebrating newfound fame or promoting imminent work.

After Nigel introduced him, Noah Brewster looked around the room and said, “Thanks for letting a musician crash the comedy party. Hosting TNO has been a lifelong dream, ever since I was a middle school misfit sneaking down to the basement to watch after my parents went to bed.” He smiled his big smile at us, and I wondered if his teeth were real or veneers. After nine years at TNO, I was as accustomed as one could be to interacting with high-wattage celebrities, though it often was surprising to discover who was even better-looking in person (most of them), who was an asshole (not many, but definitely a few), who was shockingly vacuous (the lead from a popular police procedural stood out), and who you wished would stay on the show forever because they were so great in the sketches and also just so fun to hang out with in the middle of the night.

Nigel glanced to his left, where a writer was sitting at his feet, and said, “Benji, why don’t you kick things off?”

Benji pitched a sketch about the former FBI director, James Comey, writing the memoir he’d just published, dictating Dear Diary–style girlish reminiscences. Then a cast member named Oliver said he was working on an idea with Rohit, another writer (it wouldn’t become clear until the read-through of the sketches on Wednesday if this was true or an excuse on Oliver’s part). Then a writer named Lianna pitched a sketch where Noah Brewster would play the token hot straight boy in a high school chorus, then a writer named Tony pitched a sketch where Noah Brewster would play a preppy white guy running for office and guest-preaching in a Black church. Henrietta, who was one of the two cast members I worked with the most, said she and Viv, who was the other cast member I worked with the most, wanted to do a sketch about Internet searches made by dogs. I went sixth.

“I think of this one as The Danny Horst Rule,” I said. “Because it’s inspired by my very own officemate, whose big news I trust we’re all aware of.” Everyone clapped or hooted. Over the weekend, after seven weeks of dating, Danny and Annabel Lily had gotten engaged, as revealed in a post on Annabel’s Instagram account showing a close-up of a ring on her finger, her hand resting atop Danny’s. Celebrity gossip websites immediately reported that the diamond was an emerald-cut halo with a pavé setting, and estimated that the ring had cost $110,000. Although I myself had been married briefly in my twenties, I had no idea what emerald cut, halo, or pavé setting meant—my ex-husband and I had both worn plain gold bands.

As the cheering died down, Danny, who was sitting on the floor two people to my left, said, “Thanks, everyone. And, yeah, pretty f***ing psyched that I get to be Mr. Annabel Lily.” There was another round of cheers, and Danny added, “If you’re wondering, Sally did warn me that she’d be exploiting me to advance her career.”

“I’m trying to convince Danny to write it with me,” I said. “But we’ll put a pin in that for now. Anyway, I want to write about the phenomenon where—sorry, Danny, I really do love you—but where men at TNO date above their station, but women never do.”

There was widespread laughter, though laughter at the pitch meeting could mean you’d revealed your punchlines too early. For this reason, some people pitched only decoys, though I took the risk of sharing my real ideas in order to lay claim to them in case anyone else was considering something similar. And anyway, to a surprising degree, laughter was never the ultimate determinant of a sketch’s fate; Nigel’s whims were. Of the forty or so scripts that would be submitted for Wednesday’s read-through, about twelve sketches would make it to the dress rehearsal Saturday and just eight to the live show. Sketches featuring the host had a better chance of surviving, but beyond that, it was impossible to guess what Nigel would decide. All of us in his office at that moment, cast members and writers alike, had had our hearts broken many times.

“Obviously, Danny should be in the sketch in some capacity,” I added, “either as himself or as someone else. And, Noah, it could work really well if you’re a guy who gets arrested for somehow breaking the rule, like you’re on a date with either Henrietta or Viv made up to look less gorgeous than they are in real life.” Though I was close to Henrietta and Viv, I wasn’t just flattering them. They really were both gorgeous, which wasn’t unusual for female comedians, and they were both so funny that their funniness often obscured their beauty, which also wasn’t unusual for female comedians.

“Just so I understand—” Noah Brewster said, and the confusion on his face made me wonder if he’d turn out to be one of the ding-dongs. I’d never previously spoken to him. The first time he’d been the musical guest had been before I worked at the show, and the second time, I hadn’t had any reason to interact with him. Occasionally, musical guests appeared in sketches, or you could watch them rehearse their songs on Thursday afternoons if you weren’t otherwise occupied, but that didn’t mean you’d meet. “In this sketch,” he said, “I’d be breaking the law because I’m so much better looking than a woman I’m dating?”

There was some chuckling, and a writer named Jeremiah said, “The bail for your hair alone would be a billion dollars.”

Noah’s expression was agreeable as he looked at me and said, “No, I’m really asking.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Basically.” I was seated with my back against the west wall of Nigel’s office, about ten feet from Noah, and many of my co-workers were between us.

Noah’s voice remained cheerfully diplomatic as he said, “I’ve always thought it works better when the host is making fun of himself—or herself—instead of mocking other people, so I’m inclined to pass on this one.”
Discussion Guide for Romantic Comedy (Reese's Book Club)

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

“[Sittenfeld] has a keen eye for relationships, particularly romantic ones, which is what makes her upcoming book, Romantic Comedy, so enticing. . . . [The novel] takes a shot of SNL and makes sparks fly.”Elle

“A love letter to the prototypical rom-com . . . Sittenfeld’s work exists in the dissection and comprehension of female desire: what we want, what we absolutely don’t and, maybe paramount, what we’re even allowed to have. . . . A fizzy ride.”The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“From the heart to the funny bone . . . What makes all this particularly delightful is that the woman narrating Romantic Comedy is hyper-aware of the conventions of romantic comedy, and she knows full well that real life is no fairy tale. But could it be this time?”—The Washington Post

“Zingy . . . electrically compelling, with steady warmth as well as drama . . . [Romantic Comedy’s] command of structure, pace and dialogue is faultless. . . . [An] affable, intelligently crafted tale of work and love.”The Guardian

“If you’re in need of [a] smart, sophisticated, and fun diversion right now (and who isn’t), this is your book. Like her literary foremother Jane Austen, Sittenfeld brings together exquisitely sharp dialogue that fizzes, excruciating sexual tension, and incisive social observation.”Oprah Daily

“Sittenfeld’s meta-romance is an utterly perfect version of itself, a self-aware and pandemic-informed love story that’s no less romantic for being either. . . . Fans will flock to this pure-fun, feminist romp.”Booklist (starred review)

“Romance artfully and entertainingly deconstructed.”Kirkus Reviews

About

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • A comedy writer thinks she’s sworn off love, until a dreamy pop star flips the script on all her assumptions—a “smart, sophisticated, and fun” (Oprah Daily) novel from the author of Eligible, Rodham, and Prep.
 
“Full of dazzling banter and sizzling chemistry.”—People
 
“If you ever wanted a backstage pass to Saturday Night Live, this is the book for you.”—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, NPR, USA Today, BuzzFeed, PopSugar, Harper’s Bazaar, Real Simple, She Reads, New York Post


Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life.

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called The Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman.

Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right?

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.

Author

© Jenn Ackerman
Curtis Sittenfeld is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels including Rodham, Eligible, Prep, American Wife, and Sisterland, as well as the collection You Think It, I’ll Say It. Her novels have been translated into thirty languages. In addition, her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post Magazine, Esquire, and The Best American Short Stories, for which she has also been the guest editor. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, and Vanity Fair, and on public radio’s This American Life. View titles by Curtis Sittenfeld

Excerpt

Chapter 1

April 2018


Weekly Schedule for The Night Owls

Monday 1 p.m. pitch meeting with guest host

Tuesday 5 p.m. start of all-night writing session

Wednesday 12 p.m. deadline for submitted sketches

Wednesday 3 p.m. table read of submitted sketches

Wednesday 9 p.m. preliminary show lineup posted internally

Wednesday night–Saturday morning rehearsals; scripts revised; sets built; special effects designed; hair, makeup, and costumes chosen and created; pre-tapes shot

Saturday 1 p.m. run-through of show

Saturday 8 p.m. dress rehearsal before a live audience

Saturday 11:30 p.m. live show before a new audience

Sunday 1:30 a.m. first after-party

Monday, 1:10 p.m.

For the meeting that marked the official start of that week’s show, I planned to pitch two sketches. But I had three ideas—you could write and submit more but pitch only two—so I’d play by ear which ones I went with, depending on how the guest host reacted to the pitches preceding mine. About forty writers, cast members, and producers were crammed into the seventeenth-floor office of the show’s creator and executive director, Nigel Petersen. Nigel’s seventeenth-floor office—not to be confused with his office on the eighth floor, adjacent to the studio where the show was filmed—was both well-appointed and never intended as a meeting place for anywhere close to forty people. This meant that Nigel sat behind his desk, the host sat in a leather armchair, a few lucky staffers nabbed a place on the sole couch, and everyone else leaned against the wall or sat on the floor.

Nigel started by introducing the host, who, as happened about once per season, was also that week’s musical guest. Noah Brewster had twice in the past been the musical guest, but this was his first time hosting. He was a cheesily handsome, extremely successful singer-songwriter who specialized in cloying pop music and was known for dating models in their early twenties. Though he looked like a surfer—piercing blue eyes, shaggy blond hair and stubble, a big toothy grin, and a jacked body—I’d learned by reading the host bio we were emailed each Monday morning that he’d grown up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. He was thirty-six, the same age I was, and had been famous ever since releasing the hit “Making Love in July” more than fifteen years before, when I was in college. “Making Love in July” was a paean to respectfully taking the virginity of a long-haired girl with “glowy skin,” “a pouty mouth,” and “raspberry nipples,” and it was one of those songs that had for a year played so often on the radio that, in spite of finding it execrable, I accidentally knew all the words. In the time since then, Noah Brewster had won many awards and sold more than twenty million albums, a figure I also had learned from his host bio. It was not a coincidence that his tenth album was being released the following week; hosts, musical guests, and the combinations therein were usually either celebrating newfound fame or promoting imminent work.

After Nigel introduced him, Noah Brewster looked around the room and said, “Thanks for letting a musician crash the comedy party. Hosting TNO has been a lifelong dream, ever since I was a middle school misfit sneaking down to the basement to watch after my parents went to bed.” He smiled his big smile at us, and I wondered if his teeth were real or veneers. After nine years at TNO, I was as accustomed as one could be to interacting with high-wattage celebrities, though it often was surprising to discover who was even better-looking in person (most of them), who was an asshole (not many, but definitely a few), who was shockingly vacuous (the lead from a popular police procedural stood out), and who you wished would stay on the show forever because they were so great in the sketches and also just so fun to hang out with in the middle of the night.

Nigel glanced to his left, where a writer was sitting at his feet, and said, “Benji, why don’t you kick things off?”

Benji pitched a sketch about the former FBI director, James Comey, writing the memoir he’d just published, dictating Dear Diary–style girlish reminiscences. Then a cast member named Oliver said he was working on an idea with Rohit, another writer (it wouldn’t become clear until the read-through of the sketches on Wednesday if this was true or an excuse on Oliver’s part). Then a writer named Lianna pitched a sketch where Noah Brewster would play the token hot straight boy in a high school chorus, then a writer named Tony pitched a sketch where Noah Brewster would play a preppy white guy running for office and guest-preaching in a Black church. Henrietta, who was one of the two cast members I worked with the most, said she and Viv, who was the other cast member I worked with the most, wanted to do a sketch about Internet searches made by dogs. I went sixth.

“I think of this one as The Danny Horst Rule,” I said. “Because it’s inspired by my very own officemate, whose big news I trust we’re all aware of.” Everyone clapped or hooted. Over the weekend, after seven weeks of dating, Danny and Annabel Lily had gotten engaged, as revealed in a post on Annabel’s Instagram account showing a close-up of a ring on her finger, her hand resting atop Danny’s. Celebrity gossip websites immediately reported that the diamond was an emerald-cut halo with a pavé setting, and estimated that the ring had cost $110,000. Although I myself had been married briefly in my twenties, I had no idea what emerald cut, halo, or pavé setting meant—my ex-husband and I had both worn plain gold bands.

As the cheering died down, Danny, who was sitting on the floor two people to my left, said, “Thanks, everyone. And, yeah, pretty f***ing psyched that I get to be Mr. Annabel Lily.” There was another round of cheers, and Danny added, “If you’re wondering, Sally did warn me that she’d be exploiting me to advance her career.”

“I’m trying to convince Danny to write it with me,” I said. “But we’ll put a pin in that for now. Anyway, I want to write about the phenomenon where—sorry, Danny, I really do love you—but where men at TNO date above their station, but women never do.”

There was widespread laughter, though laughter at the pitch meeting could mean you’d revealed your punchlines too early. For this reason, some people pitched only decoys, though I took the risk of sharing my real ideas in order to lay claim to them in case anyone else was considering something similar. And anyway, to a surprising degree, laughter was never the ultimate determinant of a sketch’s fate; Nigel’s whims were. Of the forty or so scripts that would be submitted for Wednesday’s read-through, about twelve sketches would make it to the dress rehearsal Saturday and just eight to the live show. Sketches featuring the host had a better chance of surviving, but beyond that, it was impossible to guess what Nigel would decide. All of us in his office at that moment, cast members and writers alike, had had our hearts broken many times.

“Obviously, Danny should be in the sketch in some capacity,” I added, “either as himself or as someone else. And, Noah, it could work really well if you’re a guy who gets arrested for somehow breaking the rule, like you’re on a date with either Henrietta or Viv made up to look less gorgeous than they are in real life.” Though I was close to Henrietta and Viv, I wasn’t just flattering them. They really were both gorgeous, which wasn’t unusual for female comedians, and they were both so funny that their funniness often obscured their beauty, which also wasn’t unusual for female comedians.

“Just so I understand—” Noah Brewster said, and the confusion on his face made me wonder if he’d turn out to be one of the ding-dongs. I’d never previously spoken to him. The first time he’d been the musical guest had been before I worked at the show, and the second time, I hadn’t had any reason to interact with him. Occasionally, musical guests appeared in sketches, or you could watch them rehearse their songs on Thursday afternoons if you weren’t otherwise occupied, but that didn’t mean you’d meet. “In this sketch,” he said, “I’d be breaking the law because I’m so much better looking than a woman I’m dating?”

There was some chuckling, and a writer named Jeremiah said, “The bail for your hair alone would be a billion dollars.”

Noah’s expression was agreeable as he looked at me and said, “No, I’m really asking.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Basically.” I was seated with my back against the west wall of Nigel’s office, about ten feet from Noah, and many of my co-workers were between us.

Noah’s voice remained cheerfully diplomatic as he said, “I’ve always thought it works better when the host is making fun of himself—or herself—instead of mocking other people, so I’m inclined to pass on this one.”

Guides

Discussion Guide for Romantic Comedy (Reese's Book Club)

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Praise

“[Sittenfeld] has a keen eye for relationships, particularly romantic ones, which is what makes her upcoming book, Romantic Comedy, so enticing. . . . [The novel] takes a shot of SNL and makes sparks fly.”Elle

“A love letter to the prototypical rom-com . . . Sittenfeld’s work exists in the dissection and comprehension of female desire: what we want, what we absolutely don’t and, maybe paramount, what we’re even allowed to have. . . . A fizzy ride.”The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“From the heart to the funny bone . . . What makes all this particularly delightful is that the woman narrating Romantic Comedy is hyper-aware of the conventions of romantic comedy, and she knows full well that real life is no fairy tale. But could it be this time?”—The Washington Post

“Zingy . . . electrically compelling, with steady warmth as well as drama . . . [Romantic Comedy’s] command of structure, pace and dialogue is faultless. . . . [An] affable, intelligently crafted tale of work and love.”The Guardian

“If you’re in need of [a] smart, sophisticated, and fun diversion right now (and who isn’t), this is your book. Like her literary foremother Jane Austen, Sittenfeld brings together exquisitely sharp dialogue that fizzes, excruciating sexual tension, and incisive social observation.”Oprah Daily

“Sittenfeld’s meta-romance is an utterly perfect version of itself, a self-aware and pandemic-informed love story that’s no less romantic for being either. . . . Fans will flock to this pure-fun, feminist romp.”Booklist (starred review)

“Romance artfully and entertainingly deconstructed.”Kirkus Reviews

PRH Education High School Collections

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