Fall 2004 - Volume 7 Number 4
The Dewey Decimal System of Love
New York: New American Library, 2003
Oscar Levant, pianist, Gershwin intimate and ravishing raconteur once remarked that he had known Doris Day for a very long time, even "before she was a virgin." It is, however, the latter day Ms. Day, irrepressibly up-beat and quite celibate who would best appear as Alison Sheffield the narrator, heroine and prime mover of this mildly amusing though occasionally super-silly comic romance. In the hypothetical film version (which would have to have been made sometime before the execution of John F. Kennedy), Rock Hudson would be cast as her co-worker with a reputation as a womanizer but a sex life more suited to our image of a male librarian, and Gig Young, perhaps, as the handsome, charismatic and dishearteningly married orchestra conductor who is, for most of the book, the man whom the beautiful leading lady chases. There is a hint of a mystery here, just enough to keep the plot moving one step ahead of Alison's self-indulgence, as our fair librarian becomes obsessed not just with her symphonic swain but with her fantasy that the fellow's snobby wife is out to murder him. There's a part for Tony Randall here too, but I don't want to spoil all the fun.
All the fun, of course, doesn't add up to much. What stands out more in this little confection is the self-consciously cute and annoyingly affected deployment of Dewey decimal system instructions to introduce and simultaneously summarize the theme of each chapter ("For questions about body language, go to the 153.6s" and so on).
For all the effort to create moral tension in the treatment of the "married man syndrome," it is plain from the outset that Doris-Alison-Josephine will not actually descend to adultery. For all the work that goes into making her out to be a secretly sensuous and unremittingly bouncy Doppelgänger to her stereotypically sensible public persona, the author cannot quite get beyond her own solemnity. An unnecessary set of "acknowledgements" at the beginning of the book testifies to the author's deeper purpose. In a message to "my readers", she expresses the hope that "you continue to honor the extraordinary literary heritage found in our free library system and the librarians who help us discover its enduring wealth."
Good grief. I thought it was just a quick jollity. It turns out she wants it to be considered "literature."
Why even bring such a work to your attention? It is, after all, only a little more engaging than any standard Harlequin romance. The answer, I suppose, is that it is a potential exhibit in some future sociological study of the representation of librarians in fiction. Those seeking a doctoral thesis project, take note.
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