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finder. A cigarette in the left hand when it should be in the right, a prematurely melted ice cube in a half-empty glass of...
Meredith is a continuity girl. Her job is to make sure that the details in every scene on a film shoot are consistent. She is the error catcher. The needle- n-the-haystack
Copyright © 2009 Leah McLaren.
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The Globe and Mail Review
FICTION
Book Review

Sex and the single sperm bandit
JOANNA GOODMAN
923 words

The Globe and Mail
D12
English

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The Continuity Girl ~ By Leah McLaren
HarperCollins, 335 pages

Welcome to the new chicklit. No longer just a dismissive cliché to characterize the plethora of novels du jour about shallow, self-centred single women, chicklit — or as I prefer to call it, contemporary women's literature — has become a full-fledged genre that is maturing and evolving in the hands of a new generation of women writers. With the release of her first novel, The Continuity Girl, Globe and Mail writer Leah McLaren positions herself at the forefront of this literary movement, proving that chicklit can be clever, poignant and insightful.The story follows Meredith Moore, a Toronto-based script supervisor known in the industry as the “continuity girl' — who, on turning 35, has a simultaneous career and fertility crisis that propels her on a trans-Atlantic quest to make a baby.Meredith is a classic perfectionist, which makes her the ideal continuity girl. She describes herself as a “dispassionate observer valued for her ability to meticulously record details without judgment or embellishment.” Her job is to observe each take during filming and make sure every detail is consistent with the previous take. As such, she's used to controlling the story in both her personal and professional lives.After Meredith suffers the double blow of getting fired and being warned by a well-meaning gynecologist of the dire state of her fertility, her mother, an eccentric Brit she calls That Woman, arranges for Meredith to come live in London and work on the big-budget movie of a mysterious director to whom she is somehow connected. Meredith also sees it as the perfect opportunity to meet a man who will father her child — with no strings attached.Once in London, Meredith dubs herself a “sperm-bandit” and sets her sights on a string of potential donors: an alcoholic falconer, a German photographer whose horrifying exhibit sends her running, and the widowed fertility specialist who launched her quest in the first place. The thing about Meredith is she's neurotic and anxiety-ridden, so much so that she has to carry an old bottle of Ativan in her pocket for comfort. A suspension of disbelief is required if we are to believe that Meredith, who has a nervous breakdown on set when she loses her self-stick three-hole paper reinforcements, would have unprotected sex with a stranger in order to conceive a baby.But never mind that. We forgive McLaren in large part because her prose is so witty and engaging and we can't put the book down.Along the way, in classic chicklit style, Meredith falls in love, makes peace with her mother, learns the truth about her father, finds her professional calling and . . . I won't tell you whether she gets pregnant. It's to McLaren's credit that the reader isn't sure how things will turn out at the end. She skillfully throws in a few twists and surprises to keep the story fresh and unpredictable.The Continuity Girl is filled with hilarious lines. In comparing Meredith to the “Yummy Mummies” at her yoga class, McLaren writes: “Still, they must know something she didn't — they were Yummy while she was un-Yummy, thirty-five, her Fallopian tubes like a pair of half-empty Pez dispensers.” Brilliant, as the Brits would say.At times, the cast of secondary characters borders on caricature. Meredith's mother, for instance, is a wild, bawdy poetess whose literary career peaked and waned in the sixties and whose lack of maternal instinct and appropriateness comes precariously close to implausible. There's also Mich, Meredith's best friend, a flaky, brazen party girl who, though lacking substance, is at least redeemed by her loyalty to Meredith; and Osmond Crouch, the mysterious benefactor who is part Roman Polanski, part Howard Hughes — a millionaire hermit who's been cloistered in his Italian villa for the better part of a decade working on a silent film that is to be his masterpiece.McLaren fares much better with Dr. Joe Veil, the infertile doctor who switched his specialty from oncology to fertility and then lost his wife to cancer. He is a much more complex and well-drawn character, revealing that McLaren is quite capable of the depth and texture necessary to transcend the limitations of the more one-dimensional chicklit novels.McLaren is at her best when wryly observing social and cultural life, whether the Toronto bourgeoisie, the Hollywood film world or the class system in England. In describing Meredith's self-proclaimed “middle-class provinciality,” McLaren writes, “In London, it was as if the sum of everything you had ever done or experienced could be tallied or measured by the way you pronounced the word ‘vase.' ”In spite of several brief lapses into slapstick, McLaren has crafted a relevant women's comedy for the ages. She astutely captures the dilemma of today's working woman who finds herself mid-thirties, single and longing to become a mother, and she does it while eliciting her fair share of laugh-out-loud moments in the process.McLaren has been touted as Canada's Carrie Bradshaw. Those are some big Manolo Blahniks to fill, but The Continuity Girl proves McLaren's got the style, wit and intelligence to do it.Torontonian Joanna Goodman is the author of the novel You Made Me Love You. Her new novel, Harmony, will be released in spring, 2007.