What brings us satisfaction? Is it a rewarding career? The usual 2.5 kids and two-car garage? How about a taped Frasier rerun and someone to watch it with at the end of the day? For Shannon Olson, in her mid-thirties, educated, and the self-proclaimed "last single woman in Minnesota," just finding someone to indulge with in red wine and reruns is a trial. Even more so than ridding her apartment of its resident bat and making it through the "closing statements" in group therapy.
Despite the author's likeness on the book jacket, it's important to separate the author from her fictional self. The follow-up to Olson's debut, Welcome to My Planet: Where English Is Sometimes Spoken trails "Shannon" as she immerses herself in therapy, attempting to separate herself from her mother, Flo--at least by the length of a Target aisle. Shannon also questions a future with Adam, her best friend from college and the last single male among her circle. Shannon's search for fulfillment ultimately makes her question the status of their relationship, which never seems to evolve, yet grows nonetheless, without her realizing it. She muses, "I guess I've always thought of Adam as my standby. Another passenger on a flight that might never get off the ground."
We all know a Shannon. She's our confidant: the one we show websites to at work, share a drink with afterward, and listen to as she spills her latest melodrama. Her woe du jour could be Flo's criticism of a new bed ("Just because you get a new bed doesn't mean a boyfriend comes with it") or the rumblings of self-doubt that arise when fellow singleton Lucy gets picked up at the bar instead of her. Whether Shannon is approaching happiness or searching for a way to grieve, Olson writes soulfully.
Truly, it's about time a smart, plucky, realistic heroine lived outside of Manhattan, shopped at Target instead of Bergdorf Goodman, and measured her life in trips through the McDonalds drive-through. Olson's books may be shelved next to The Devil Wore Prada, Shopaholic Abroad, and other, mostly flavorless, chick lit fare. But hers aren't the type of tomes where, as Olson described in a recent reading, "The character gets the right shade of eyeliner and boyfriend at the end." Shannon discovers herself, and that's more than enough.