I have a soft spot for debut novels. There’s something wonderful about an author stretching his or her wings and really giving the long form a go for the first time. As a reader, I get almost as exhilarated as the writer. So, I was prepared to enjoy short fiction author and poet Carol Rosenfeld’s first novel, The One That Got Away, but I wasn’t prepared for how wise and outrageously funny it is. Rosenfeld promises much, and she delivers in every way.
Middle-aged wedding consultant Bambi Devine (aka B.D.) has recently come out to herself and her friends, but she’s having some difficulty adjusting to life inside the rainbow. The girl of her dreams, Bridget McKnight, is already in a relationship with Natalie Lamont. But Natalie is also involved in a hot and heavy friendship with fellow mushroom enthusiast, power dyke, and feminist author Maxine Huff. Is their friendship platonic or something more? If it’s something more, does that mean B.D. stands a chance with Bridget? And where does that leave private investigator Angel, who pursues B.D. almost as hotly as B.D. does Natalie? Like all good clickbait stories, I’ll just say ‘the answer will astonish you.’
From B.D.’s gay drag queen boss Eduardo to her own lovable schlub schtick, The One That Got Away is obviously a comic novel imbued with a wonderful sense of irony and any number of winking asides skewering the lesbian community in New York City. B.D. is a tremendous point of view character, full of wit and self-deprecation, and Rosenfeld writes her with a glorious eye for detail. Consider her reaction to her friends, Annalise and Ellen, running lines from the film Desert Hearts, a film B.D. hasn’t seen:
In fact, I was watching girl-on-girl porn films. They had titles like “Girls Night Out, Vol. 34” and featured actresses with names like Kittie Hawk and Goldie Locks. The women had tousled blonde hair and long polished nails that made me a little anxious. Occasionally, their technique seemed hampered by glances up at the camera, as if to say, “How am I doing?” But my body wasn’t a film critic. I wasn’t sure whether or not to share this, because I hadn’t figured out if Annalise and Ellen were erotic lesbians or pornographic lesbians. As with mushrooms, misidentification could have grave consequences.
As funny as The One That Got Away is, however, the book turns on a totally unforeseen plot development that gives the last few chapters a poignancy and depth I never expected from a work amusing enough to make me laugh out loud in an airplane. This shift in mood elevates the novel from “good” to “stunning,” and Rosenfeld negotiates this emotional minefield with an assured ease that makes it look like a cakewalk.
In short, Carol Rosenfeld’s The One That Got Away is one of the best debut novels I’ve read since ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Light, which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is this book. The curse is that it’s going to be tough to follow.
© 2015 Jerry L. Wheeler