Smartest girl

Diane Vadino’s secret nerd heart
By SHARON STEEL  |  November 13, 2007

CONFIDENTIAL: Vadino transcends the categorizations that have become every young coming-of-age writer’s worst nightmare.

Smart Girls Like Me | By Diane Vadino | Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s | 272 pages | $23.95
Many people will pre-judge Betsy Nilssen — the heroine of Diane Vadino’s debut, Smart Girls Like Me — as another Bridget Jones or Andy Sachs, and that’s a shame. Even though Smart Girls’ lip-glossed-Splenda jacket appeals to the sort of tirelessly stylish girls scrutinizing the production schedule of the Sex & the City movie, Betsy herself would prefer X-Files reruns to Sarah Jessica Parker sightings. Nevertheless, Smart Girls is going to be called chick lit. It might even be denounced as “trick lit,” a new, similarly pejorative term that author/blogger Seth Godin coined to describe chick lit masquerading as something more meaningful. It’s true that Smart Girls stars a messy, irreverent New Yorker who works in fashion and is clever, confused, and alone, and this is indeed a satire about almost-boyfriends and urban isolation. Some might consider these choices limiting, but Vadino has merely found them inspiring. Which is why Smart Girls transcends the de facto genre categorizations that have become every young coming-of-age writer’s worst nightmare.

A 24-year-old assistant editor at a fashion dot-com, Betsy’s a lovely, muddled contradiction — neurotic enough to refuse getting into the shower with a guy she’s obsessed with yet comfortable conducting intelligent interviews while drunk. She’s also a victim of the early disillusionment that cloned itself through post-collegiates at the cusp of the millennium, during which Vadino deftly sets the scene here. Betsy is preparing for several things at once: the end of the world, a quarter-life crisis, and the loss of her steely, alluring best friend, Bridget — who is about to be married. Bridget has a “secret nerd heart” that beats in synch with Betsy’s. This is where their bond lives.

Vadino could have turned this connection into the hollow shells and bones of friendship. Instead, she weaves through their interactions — and the spaces between them — with an organic sensitivity. We already understand what they mean to each other, and how much they love each other. Betsy’s unadorned narrative channels all of this: “There is a moment of silence before I hear the dead air. Bridget has hung up on me. If anyone else had done that, I would have been annoyed, put out, but with Bridget it is just part of what we do: There is an indescribable grace in being allowed to be your own worst self with someone, completely unedited, and it is something I would not trade for the world, for Ryan even, for anything.”

Betsy doesn’t pledge these feelings to Ryan, her crush/current fixation. He tempts Betsy, and she kisses and then hops into bed with him. “I am hoping this is not becoming the push-pull of the Girl Who Is Trapped in Her Head and the Boy Who Loves to Fuck,” she muses. For a time, she loses herself to the disorienting sadness that makes their relationship the only Armageddon she’s forced to survive.

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  Topics: Books , Sarah Jessica Parker, Bridget Jones, Diane Vadino,  More more >
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