Peter Hapworth is an articulate, disaffected adjunct professor and would-be novelist teaching disinterested commuter students at UIC. He enters into a whirlwind romance with Izzy Conway, a local master sommelier and celebrity television host, and thus begins the journey that is Vintage Attraction.
Author Charles Blackstone is the articulate managing editor of the popular site Bookslut and an accomplished writer who earned a degree from UIC. He is married to local master sommelier and celebrity television host Alpana Singh, formerly of WTTW’s popular “Check, Please!” program.
And so art imitates life imitates art.
Vintage Attraction is a light, engaging novel set largely in Chicago. Blackstone has peppered his story with tons of local color. Many Chicagoans will recognize the neighborhood streets, restaurants, and shops Blackstone references (although it remains to be seen whether the details will resonate with readers outside the six-county region). Local readers will instantly recognize Alpana Singh in Izzy Conway and “Check, Please!” in the fictional “Vintage Attraction” show. Indeed, such similarities between fiction and reality likely will have many readers wondering just how much of the novel is true and how much imagination.
Richly drawn with colorful characters, this expertly paced novel lands somewhere between light romance, literary fiction, and women’s fiction. Vintage Attraction is both breezy and thoughtful, and Blackstone’s prose is at once smart and witty and funny and snarky and pretentious and cynical. Descriptive and well-drawn, the people and places Hapworth and Izzy encounter fully come to life in text that can sometimes feel a bit heavy with adjectives (indeed, “myriad” appears more times in the novel than this reviewer has ever seen before in one book). At times, the writing is deeply insightful, opening to readers a glimpse of different worlds such as the not-so-ivory-tower bureaucracy of academia and the ugly, invasive side of celebrity.
At other times, however, one wonders whether Blackstone himself is oblivious to the flaws of his own characters. Hapworth, for example, displays clear disdain for the moneyed set, and he and Izzy spend much time at high-end food-and-wine functions mocking the attendees who can afford to frequent such events. Yet Hapworth doesn’t seem to mind hitching his star to Izzy’s, allowing her to buy him a new wardrobe, tagging along to her fancy shindigs, signing his name to a mortgage that she will cover largely by herself, or traveling with her on an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece. Whether this discrepancy is intended or not is something of a mystery.
Regardless, such character flaws bring a sense of realism to a story that at times seems impossible. [Spoiler Alert!] Hapworth and Izzy barely know each other before they elope. Seemingly within days, their nascent marriage is on the rocks. When both of their careers hit the skids, a fortunately timed inheritance saves the day, both of their careers, and their marriage. If only real life were so simple.
But such is the wonder that is fiction. A bit of romantic escapism never hurt anyone, and Vintage Attraction provides just that. Add to that a brief education in wines from around the world, and readers will find in these pages much to enjoy. Hapworth and Izzy are honest, well-developed characters, and watching them come together, drift apart, and reunite makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
October 2013, Pegasus Books
$24.95, 293 pages, hardcover