People read self-help books for everything from programming their computers to choosing the right wine – how else would the “For Dummies” corporation have become so massively successful? A how-to guide on being single, however, does not sound quite so appealing. Most of us, myself included, don’t want to assume we’re going to be single for such a long time that we should treat our solitude as a skill to be honed, a hobby to excel in. However, Luz Tuccillo’s novel takes on the subject in “How to Be Single,” an honest and refreshing deviation from traditional views of the single life.
Julie, the novel’s main character, is a 38-year-old single New Yorker. When her recently divorced friend Georgia calls her in hysterics, begging to be shown the “fun single life,” Julie organizes a night out with three other single friends – Serena, Alice and Ruby. However, when the night spins out of control and leaves none of the women feeling content with their single lives, Julie decides she needs to give some serious consideration to how a modern woman past the first bloom of youth can comfortably live her life without a partner.
Julie dives in headfirst to tackle this issue — she quits her job and sets off on a tour of the world to see how women from other cultures answer the ultimate question: Why are you single, and what are you going to do about it?
Traveling from France to Mumbai to Iceland to Sydney, she finds surprisingly different answers in every location. I was honestly (and pleasantly) surprised by how much variety Tuccillo managed to pack into the philosophies of each different woman, and each one genuinely provided some food for thought on what it should and what it realistically does mean to be single.
Each chapter is titled with a rule about how to be single. These titles provide such gems as “Rule 4: Get Carried Away (Even Though It’s Impossible to Know When You Should and When It’s Just Going to End in Disaster)” and “Rule 10: Remember That Sometimes There Are More Important Things Than You and Your Lousy Love Life AND Get Your Friends More Involved in Helping You with Your Lousy Love Life.” These rules provide great comic relief from some of the more serious issues and unapologetically hit the nail on the head in many cases.
As Julie globe trots, the novel also follows the friends she left in New York and their own failing love lives as well as their growing friendships with one another. Though the novel has a lot to say about the single life, it speaks to how crucial it is to have a support group when everything falls apart. This commentary on the undertones and development of female friendships à la Sex and the City (which Tuccillo helped write) was one of my favorite parts of the book.
While I’m all for “girl posses,” as Julie calls her group of friends, I just didn’t like the characters Tuccillo created for Julie’s support system in the beginning. They all seemed to be caricatures of single stereotypes – the overly emotional crier, the recently dumped, the “I don’t need a man” New Age yogi and the obsessive dater determined that all it takes is dedication to find the love of her life.
That being said, by the end of the novel, each and every one had grown on me. I don’t know if Tuccillo toned them down purposefully or if their extremely quirky personalities just won me over, but by the last chapter (Rule 11: Believe in Miracles), I genuinely liked and related in some way to each of the women.
Throughout the novel, Julie is funny, likable and heartbreakingly honest, but one thing she is not is optimistic. She is unrepentant about her sometimes grim findings on single life, based largely on her own unlucky love life, but ultimately it is this refusal to promise single women that everything will be alright that makes her so likable and the novel so readable.
Though Julie may not always be a bundle of cheer, the book is called “How to Be Single” for a reason. She does offer tips on how to get through it all with your sanity intact, and she does provide an overall affirmation that while it may not be anyone’s dream to be without the love of their life, it is completely doable and even fun with good friends by your side.
This cohesiveness is exemplified in one of my favorite lines from the book: “At the end of the day, it’s night. And … if it’s night, there’s nightlife, and when there’s life … there’s always hope. And I guess that’s a big part of how to be single. Hope. Friends. And making sure you get out of your damn apartment.”
Tuccillo tackles the large and cumbersome topic of singlehood with a biting wit, and she creates an altogether fun, refreshing read that has something for anyone who has ever been single, wanted to travel the world or watched friends go through heartbreak. If you liked “He’s Just Not That Into You” or “Sex and the City,” (both of which Tuccillo was involved in), chances are you’ll love this book too.