I recently read The Art of Undressing, by Stephanie Lehmann, which I got at a book sale last year. I’m not really into chick lit, but this was quite enjoyable, and I did a second reading after I finished.
The story revolves around aspiring pastry chef Ginger, who has to deal with: her outrageous ex-exotic dancer mother named Coco; her culinary school instructor Jean-Paul chewing her out every class; her distant father and thirteen-year-old step-sister; and what to do about Tom in class who seems to send out mixed signals, when he seems spoken for by the teacher’s pet?
Reading that paragraph again, it sounds so horribly superficial. That paragraph does the book no justice, because for all the outrageousness of some of the characters, they feel quite real and likable (except when they’re supposed to be not-likable). It’s hard not to like Ginger, and to not feel a connection with her as she battles her low self-esteem as a result of being overshadowed by her flamboyant, liberal, and sexy mother (especially when your own boyfriend seems to prefer her, too). Almost oddly, I did like Coco as well, who has such exuberance and vivacity that it leaps through the page and makes you forgive her for overstepping every so often.
The lightness of the book also comes with gold nuggets inside, as it’s not only a story about Ginger coming into herself but also about accepting people, living your life to the fullest, and determination in the face of opposition.
One thing I also enojoyed in this novel is Lehmann’s writing style. I’ve never read any of her other books, admittedly, but I found the writing and the personalization of the characters interesting and pleasurable, putting me in that tenuous space between knowing I am an observer of their lives and being right there in their lives and sharing their thoughts and emotions. The balance was well-done, and the writing unique enough to make it stand out to me. I so love distinct writing styles!
I guess I should’ve warned Tom that I was spending the evening as a woman. Because when I opened the door to the apartment he stood there in the hall and gaped at me like I was an alien from outer space. Come to think of it, from a Martian’s point of view, I was an alien from outer space. I certainly felt like one.
“Hi,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“Wow. Is that you?”
“You look different.”
I couldn’t help but respond with a tone of dread. “I know.”
He didn’t look thrilled, or not thrilled, just confused. … “You look great,” he said. “I just have to adjust.”
“Don’t bother. I’m not about to do this every day.”
I was somewhat aware that this was not the sort of thing one was supposed to say when one was presenting oneself in a new, supposedly better light.
That there is definitely something that would probably happen to me in real life, with the odd remarks and the odd thoughts floating around. It makes the book quite alive, outlandishly alive. I’d definitely recommend this book, especially to chick lit readers, but even to those who just want a quick enjoyable read.