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Laughing at Love

Two comedy writers have penned novels in which a happy ending is not the point.


Here's what every single woman in pursuit of happiness and love needs: a few tolerant friends, a sense of humor, a positive attitude, a good job and an astute therapist. Here's what successful female comedy writers need: to spin stories of the romantic disasters 21st century women experience as they stumble through adulthood.

Two first-time novelists, Merrill Markoe and Jill A. Davis, whose resumes each include stints on the staff of "Late Show With David Letterman," have gone literary to expand upon the lament that a good man is hard to find, even though the search can be amusing.

In each book, the therapeutically savvy reader will recognize some characters with abandonment issues, card-carrying narcissists and others who act out repetition compulsions. Again. Just about everyone suffers from a glut of stupid advice to the lovelorn.

Five years ago, British author Helen Fielding published "Bridget Jones's Diary" (Viking), introducing a witty, libidinous, chain-smoking career dieter who outgrows her itch for bad boys and finds true love. The genre has grown wildly popular and has shown remarkable staying power through Fielding's sequel and a slew of similarly themed novels.

Although the heroines of Davis' "Girls' Poker Night" (Random House) and Markoe's "It's My F---ing Birthday" (Villard) are ostensibly looking for Mr. Right, their creators feel a happy ending is beside the point. In Los Angeles to read a "Girls' Poker Night" chapter at a Spoken Interludes program at the Tempest Supper Club, Davis, 32, says, "I didn't want people to think that my book was about getting the guy."

Markoe had a similar agenda. "I wanted to write about being alone," she says, "because it seems no one ever accepts that as a reasonable alternative, and I know a lot of people who live alone, and there are good things about it. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone. Nobody complains. It's interesting how everything you do is fine."

Like most of Markoe's remarks, the observation is funny, in a sly, true, painful way. She talks about the book at her lived-in Malibu home, surrounded by her four dogs and two "step-dogs," the latter pair brought to the blended canine family by her boyfriend, musician and writer Andy Prieboy.

"It's My F---ing Birthday" is Markoe's fifth book and first work of fiction. She won four Emmy awards for writing the Letterman show and secretly dreads that her obituary will identify her as the inventor of Stupid Pet Tricks or worse, Letterman's ex-girlfriend.

Since 1988, when her professional and personal association with the comedian ended, Markoe has lived in L.A., writing humorous essays, columns, scripts, television pilots and offering commentary on local news programs and comedy shows such as "Politically Incorrect." She signed on as a consultant during the second season of HBO's "Sex and the City" and has penned an episode.

Selecting a Familiar Subject

Faced with the daunting prospect of writing a novel, which her agent suggested was a more salable format than collections of short comic pieces, Markoe made the task less intimidating by choosing a familiar subject.

"I wound up writing about my parents and using the voice of the women I've been hanging out with for the last 10 years," she says. "The single women I know sing a song of hope, battered wishes and eternal self-improvement as a way out of the constant battering. That voice comes through in all that advice and support women give each other. When you get discouraged, one of your friends will say, 'When one door closes, another opens.' That's complete hogwash. I've noticed that when one door closes, another door closes. And then you have two closed doors."

Obviously, the unmarried, never-named L.A. art teacher at the center of Markoe's narrative hates birthdays. Anyone would, if an annual celebration included a dinner with critical, competitive parents whose gift was inevitably the ugliest, most unbecoming outfit on the planet. Kirkus Reviews deemed the book "classy stuff that deserves tons of flowers from dazed and satisfied readers."

The flowers are a reference to the expensive bouquets the teacher receives every birthday from her ex-boyfriend. She tries to parse the meaning of his gesture, believing that his choice of blooms are a mystery meant to be solved. "Women think that men speak in code," Markoe says. "I'm used to hearing a lot of conversations among women full of neurotic hand wringing and analysis--a lot of terror of saying or doing the wrong thing. If he said, 'See you later,' did he mean he'll see you later, or a lot later? I've learned in life that if a guy wants to be with you, he will be with you. There is no code to it."

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