A good-hearted comedy of manners

This debut novel plays cleverly with romantic comedy conventions.

Somebody call Amy Adams. The “Enchanted” princess would be perfect as Holly, the lovely strawberry blonde at the heart of James Collins’s first novel Beginner’s Greek. Readers will find themselves naturally playing casting director while reading this good-hearted comedy of manners, because the novel (knowingly) plays off so many romantic-comedy conventions that Meg Ryan could ask for a cut of the royalties. Under Peter Russell’s Wall Street suit beats the heart of a wistful romantic. He’s always dreamed of love at first sight, and when Holly plunks down in the seat next to him on a New York-L.A. flight with her copy of “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann (which just happens to be the only German novel Peter’s ever read), he can’t believe his good fortune.

Five life-changing hours later, Holly gives her phone number to Peter. But by the time he gets to his hotel room, he’s lost it.

Cut to seven years later. Peter is talking his fiancée down from her wedding-planning crises, such as the Great Cheese Course Fiasco. An angry mob could easily light its way with the torch Peter is still carrying for Holly, and Charlotte, his fiancée, isn’t really in love with him, either. (Peter did find Holly again. Or at least, his best friend Jonathan did – and married her.)

Collins, a former editor at Time magazine, writes with assurance and a nice sense of humor about everything from book signings to true love, which is referred to throughout without irony or condescension. He has a rare ability to satirize without becoming nasty, and periodically gives romantic clichés a good tweak (including striking one character by lightning).

That’s not to say that “Beginner’s Greek” couldn’t have benefited from more editing. The book is about 75 pages too long, and Collins has a penchant for two-page monologues that would do a James Bond villain proud. Also, there’s an embezzlement subplot that doesn’t resolve and an unlikely “creative” financial scheme.

But for readers who agree that “there is nothing worse in the movies than for the girl to end up with the wrong guy,” “Beginner’s Greek” offers a welcome chance to let the credits roll, at least in their imaginations.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Let me know about a good book you've read recently, or about the book that's currently on your bedside table. Why did you pick it up? Are you enjoying it?