The publicity for the Gemma Burgess novel “Brooklyn Girls” (St. Martin’s) stresses that the tale of a 22-year-old struggling to make it in the city was written and sold before the launch of the Brooklyn-set HBO Lena Dunham series “Girls.”
The characters who share a house in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn actually seem more like the women in “Sex & the City” than the scrappy females in “Girls.” They have the designer label fetish of the older and better off women of “SATC” even though they talk a lot about not having much money.
Pia Keller has rougher edges than the Hannah character on “Girls” and is presented as a much more conventionally attractive young woman who has no problem getting guys.
Pia’s main romantic challenge is that she is still carrying a torch for her first boyfriend, Eddie, who abandoned her years before but — guess what? — turns up just as Pia is drawn to a rich and attractive Brit.
One of Burgess’ many clever touches in “Brooklyn Girls” is that her protagonist is always carrying the classic Rona Jaffe women-in-the-city novel “The Best of Everything,” but obviously hasn’t learned that book’s lesson about trying to hold on to early loves.
Burgess and her novel were attacked last week on the New York Magazine “In the Cut” fashion blog for not having enough Brooklyn color — the reviewer’s implication was that Burgess had shifted a Manhattan chick lit story to the borough across the East River to catch some zeitgeist tail winds.
“Brooklyn Girls” might not work as a documentary of what real 20somethings are up to in Carroll Gardens, but Burgess kept me happily turning pages to see what was going to happen to Pia and her roommates. There’s believable friction as well as friendship between the women as their understanding of each other keeps expanding.
After Pia is fired from an office job for an indiscreet Facebook photo, she buys a broken-down food truck and finds some success with “SkinnyWheels,” serving up low fat treats rather than the heartier fare offered by most of her competitors. The fact that Pia has to go to a loan shark for the $10,000 adds some dark humor that recalls the underworld scheming of the financially strapped Brooklyn housewife Barbra Streisand played in “For Pete’s Sake.”
While the structure and characters often recall the chick lit boom of the 1990s I liked the way that Burgess worked older people into the story — the mix of ages and the unexpected cross-generational friendships give “Brooklyn Girls” lots of authentic local color.
It’s a light read to be sure, but the novel left me eager to see where Pia and her friends will go in a second book already scheduled for publication next year.