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BOOK REVIEW: Cheating at Solitaire, by Ally Carter September 17, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Pop Culture: Scourge of the Onelys, Reviews.
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Carter, Ally. Cheating at Solitaire. New York: Penguin, 2005

On the back of the book:

Self-help guru Julia James is so good at being single that she’s become famous for it–advising women that they don’t need a man to be happy. Then the unthinkable happens. Just when her newest book, 101 Ways to Cheat at Solitaire, is about to hit stores, a trumped-up piece of gossip linking her to a gorgeous actor hits the papers. Their pictures are splashed all over the tabloids, and now Julia’s credibility is about to hit rock bottom. But she isn’t going down without a fight. Unless, that is, the actor is going down with her.

I picked this book up because I wanted to see whether Julia ends up with the gorgeous actor. That’s what usually happens–the strong single woman is celebrated as long as in the end she ends up with a good man (Must Love Dogs, Hope Floats–oh we all know there are tons of examples out there, even if I can’t think of them right now).  I was expecting Cheating at Solitaire would be different, because on the back of the book the author professes herself a proud singleton: 

About the Author
Ally Carter lives and works in the Midwest. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Cornell University. She is single and has absolutely no problem eating alone in restaurants.

Carter makes great fun of the media’s obsession with coupling and uncoupling. Reporters hound Julia mercilessly when a rumor begins that this queen of single is romantically linked with the actor, and her agent and publishers discuss her increased marketability. The book is also peppered with Onely quotes like Julia’s, “I don’t believe happiness is reserved for those who are dealt great hands. (CC note: meaning you meet a suitable partner) Happiness is a decision you make–a goal you work toward” (8). Or from Julia’s book, “One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is the ‘Why haven’t you been married?’ phenomenon. Dealing with this is simple: Ignore it. And pity the culture that looks more favorably on those who have bad marriages than those who choose to remain single” (71).

When Julia’s fans believe (erroneously at first) that she’s “found someone”, half of them are delighted, and half feel betrayed. Regarding the half that feel delighted, Julia says: “I feel like people are looking at me and saying, ‘Oh, we’re so glad there isn’t something wrong with you.’ That’s what it feels like. Like people have thought there was something wrong with me for years but they’re just admitting it now” (138).  Her sister tells her that she’s “reading too much into this”, but a Onely reader will know that Julia isn’t. 

Each chapter of Cheating at Solitaire begins with a quote from Julia’s bestelling book on how to be happily single. I liked the peppy but realistic #12: “People who are happily single are that way because they are happily independent. But everyone has to know their own limitations and when to staff things out. By surrounding yourself with people you trust, life will be immeasurably easier” (43) : Classic Onely theory that we can derive emotional and logistical support from people who are not necessarily a significant other. 

However. The book does stray from pure Oneliness occasionally (but don’t we all?).  “#7: . . . it’s important for a person living alone to maintain a beautiful living space. After all, fresh flowers and a clean house might be all that’s waiting for you at the end of the day. . .” All that’s waiting for you? The implication is that it would be better to have a person (ideally a sig other) waiting. I think Carter could have chosen better wording here. 

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT 

Given the overall Oneliness of the book, imagine my surprise when I saw that successfully single Julia James *does* end up coupled in a romantic relationship with the gorgeous actor. And imagine my *greater* surprise when I didn’t find the ending as offputting as I had expected I would.

After months of drama, separation from the actor, an overture when Julia decides she misses him and sends him her symbolic deck of solitaire cards, Julia returns to her house in her hometown to find that the actor has prettied up the home she has neglected, putting up new light fixtures or something. Then they’re a couple. Julia’s shoddy hometown house represents the part of herself that she hasn’t allowed to explore love, I guess. She has an epiphany on page 261 that if she didn’t allow herself to start writing the old Veronica White romance novels she used to write, then she will “Kill the Veronica in herself, and then only Ro-Ro (note: her crazy single cranky old aunt) would survive.” And accepting a relationship with the actor was part and parcel of embracing this repressed part of herself.

At first this turn of events horrified me.

But then I realized that Carter may be playing a deft hand here. I think she’s saying that True Oneliness means being open to romantic relationships if they present themselves in the right context–if you simply swear off all significant others just because you’ve created a singleton persona for yourself, then you’re not really being single for the right reasons.

Julia Jame’s advice for singles number 102: “Don’t miss a chance to learn new games.” 

Has anyone read this book? It’s a quick, fun read, good for the beach. 

–CC

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