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The Kissing List    by Stephanie Reents Amazon.com order for
Kissing List
by Stephanie Reents
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

The Kissing List is a collection of short stories about a young woman and her friends who live in New York City and are trying to transition into adult lives after finishing college. Sylvie, the main character, has completed a post graduate year abroad studying at Oxford, and several of her New York friends were there at the same time. Some stories are about Sylvie and others are about friends, and the reader isn't always sure just who the protagonist is, whether it's Sylvie or a friend who might have a relationship with Sylvie which isn't clear.

The point of each story isn't always clear either. In the first story, Kissing, Sylvie, still in England, goes around kissing a lot of people, both friends and slight acquaintances. Even Sylvie doesn't seem to know why she does this; however the title of the collection seems to come from this story. Sylvie is extremely intelligent and has been lucky enough to meet famous poets while at Oxford, but the result of this experience has made her long for an important job.

Sylvie's solution for finding her dream job is to work for a temporary agency. In Temporary, we learn some of what she finds working for Kelly Girls. Having worked for several temporary agencies in my younger days, I was interested to learn that her experiences were much more exciting than mine ever were. She seemed to be even more na´ve than I was, which certainly surprised me, since moving to New York City was beyond what I would have braved.

Roommates provides details about apartment living conditions in the city as well as introducing us to Sylvie's roommate Laurie, who is being treated for brain cancer and who we encounter again in later stories. 'Laurie was the sorority sister of a friend of mine from Oxford,' Sylvie tells us. Other friends we meet include boyfriends such as Dixon, Todd, Peter and Lance, and best friends such as Frances, Anna, Vita, and Maureen. They appear and reappear in the stories, but Sylvie begins and ends the collection.

Some of the stories were fun to read. I particularly enjoyed This is Just to Say, about a friend of Sylvie's from high school who's writing a memoir. Sylvie obsesses about what the friend might reveal about her in the book, trying to remember everything she did with that friend that she wouldn't want published in a memoir. Her memories and the ending of the story are entertaining.

Little Porn Star was obtuse, though, and Disquisition of Tears was strange and depressing. Also, by not reading the book straight through, I found myself forgetting who the friends were and how they related to Sylvie, or even thinking that a story was about her only to discover halfway through that it was about Maureen or Laurie. I also found myself reluctant to continue with another story after finishing one that was upsetting. This is a beautifully written, imaginative work, though, and not at all predictable, but one could wish for fewer unhappy outcomes, realistic though they might be. At least everything turns out well for Sylvie.

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