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A search for romance -- or just tonight's Mr. Right

October 09, 2005|Carol Wolper | Carol Wolper is the author of several novels, including "The Cigarette Girl" and "Mr. Famous."

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Confessions of a Serial Dater

A Novel

Michelle Cunnah

Avon: 336 pp., $12.95 paper

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My Horizontal Life

A Collection of One-Night Stands

Chelsea Handler

Bloomsbury: 214 pp., $13.95 paper

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BOOKS about young women and their sexual adventures will always have an audience, especially those that deliver stories with a light touch and some insight into the chaos that often enters the picture the second someone unzips. "Confessions of a Serial Dater" by Michelle Cunnah and "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands" by Chelsea Handler explore this territory and come up with two very different takes on "the bad girl." And, depending on your attitude when it comes to casual sex and your own personal geography, you might find yourself a big fan of one or the other but probably not both.

Cunnah, the author of two previous novels, "Call Waiting" and "32AA," writes with a British sensibility, which is to say her heroine is like Bridget Jones -- quirky and lovable. Rosie Mayford, a co-owner of Odd Jobs, a London-based employment agency, becomes worried when at the first sign of trouble with her "rather nice chap" of a boyfriend, she finds herself tempted to stray. Judging by the book's title and its cover -- which proclaims, "It's a crime she never meant to commit" -- one would expect to be in for a racy good time.

At the outset, Rosie is calm, organized and reliable, which sounds like a classic set-up for a character destined for hysteria, chaos and erratic behavior. But Rosie's idea of going out on a limb is to wear shoes two sizes too small and to kiss a handsome man she doesn't know and soon wishes she hadn't met. Rather than a scandalous, libidinous soul, what we have here is good girl having a tough time with all the rogues out there willing and waiting to break a nice girl's heart.

Which isn't to say the story isn't entertaining. If books about quirky, lovable Brits and their unpredictable, charming romances appeal to you, then Cunnah delivers. But Rosie's offbeat wit and propensity to "channel Mitzi Gaynor and 'South Pacific' " keep her clean no matter how many messy love affairs are in her past.

Chelsea Handler, however, is the type of girl who would feel guilty for not kissing a handsome stranger. And if he were really lively, she'd feel doubly guilty if they didn't end up horizontal.

Handler goes right for an "R" rating by admitting up front that she's looking for a working penis and then proceeding to give details (and yes, size matters). Often hilarious and at times fearlessly honest, these true-life stories chronicle her own experiences as a New Jersey native who became a stand-up comic.

Handler has the swagger of an American girl who believes it's not insecurity and kookiness that are aphrodisiacs for men but active hormones and great breasts. This isn't a girl whom married friends should invite over for an evening of board games. If they do, they'll be bluntly informed that "Unless you're playing, Who's hiding the Ecstasy? I don't think I'm going to be able to make it." Chelsea does, however, accept invitations from a variety of men, including a cruise-ship performer, her gynecologist and a stripper named Thunder, all of whom pass through her life so quickly that she hardly has time to learn their last names, or in some cases their first.

Living on this diet of sex a la carte, (washed down with, if need be, a margarita or two), Handler's experiences are a far cry from the kinds that Rosie seeks. In the end, though, even Handler's anti-heroine realizes that a more conventional relationship is probably her destiny. It just might take her a few sequels to get there. *

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