Meeting one’s match might be left to the vagaries of Internet dating sites, but couldn’t a professional matchmaker refine the search? Diary of a Beverly Hills Matchmaker is Marla Martenson’s account of her duties with “Double D Dating Service” in the rarified atmosphere of Beverly Hills. The book is a deftly handled dual narrative as Ms. Martenson wryly recounts episodes from her own fraught life in addition to presentations of home runs and strikeouts in the world of dating, where “clueless dickheads” tend to call the shots. Her gift lies in the ability to balance comic and pathetic aspects on all sides of the story. The revelation about parking her car three blocks away from a restaurant in order to avoid paying for a spot is just as significant as that about her matchmaking client Phil: “He drives a red convertible Infinity [sic], and actually brags about his speeding tickets.” She sets him up with Natasha, who “goes ape-shit over expensive sports cars.” Ms. Martenson handles her scenes and dialog effortlessly. The same is true of the social satire: at an art party, an older woman’s face “is pulled so tight, she looks like a bass.” The vulgarity of the car-buying experience is perfectly encapsulated in Ms. Martenson’s remark about the saleman’s offer of paint sealant for $495 extra: “Only five-hundred smackers to protect the car against bird shit!”
While the natural voice is her most winning quality, use of the first-person can overwhelm the narration when Ms. Martenson emerges as protagonist. A passage about her return to Chicago gets all balled up: the work is best when she moves back and abandons self-scrutiny. Relying on her powers of description, with the addition of tart commentary, pays off big, as in the wonderfully sweet passage about getting away with her husband to Mexico for a family wedding. There’s also the occasional unfulfilled need for data to amplify her keen observations. “Do they think they’d rather have a momentary shot at biological perfection than a lifetime with a loving mate?” she asks of men who yearn for a perfect and much younger woman. Well, that would be interesting to know. What social factors form the basis of this superficiality? Someone must have researched the subject.
But I don’t mean to overemphasize my quibbles. Diary of a Beverly Hills Matchmaker consistently charms and amuses. Without having met Ms. Martenson in a writers’ group, I wouldn’t have picked up her book; whether it’s chick lit or not, it made me laugh aloud while also touching my heart. So much for trolling Amazon.com for something good to read! I wonder what the group’s other members have written.