I am committed to only putting pictures of cats next to Susan Patton stories. (Christophe Simon/Getty Images)
I am committed to only putting pictures of cats next to Susan Patton stories. (Christophe Simon/Getty Images)

HOORAY! “Princeton Mom” Susan Patton’s book emerged on Tuesday, after she survived the process of being frozen in carbonite in the 18th century.

The best thing about “Marry Smart” is that, if you read it on the subway, you can clear a nice space around yourself with plenty of room to put your coat and purse.

Of course, by the time you are reading it on the subway, it is already too late.

The book includes some real knock-out insights on such subjects as the ’70s. (“The 1970s was a seriously unattractive decade, and very few people can pull off that black shirt/white suit look with any aplomb.”)

“To avoid a life of unwanted spinsterhood — with cats!” — look, we know what cats are capable of! — “you have to smarten up about what’s important to you, and keep your head in the game.”

“Honestly, what about that is so controversial?” Patton asks. (Maybe the “unwanted spinsterhood” part? Just spitballing here?)

“Knowing and respecting yourself. That’s what it’s really about: understanding what’s important to you and prioritizing. That’s what it’s about.”

What’s it about, again?

“When I say, ‘Find a man,’ what I really mean is, ‘Find a man who will respect you.’ And when I say, ‘Find a husband in college,’ what I’m really saying is, ‘It’s never too early to start planning for your personal happiness and looking for a husband who will respect you.’ ”

“It’s never too early, and it’s never too late. (Well, that’s not really true, but we’ll discuss that later.)”

FIND A HUSBAND FIND A HUSBAND FIND A HUSBAND FIND A HUSBAND WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY ARE YOU SITTING HERE FIND A HUSBAND FIND A HUSBAND

If I ever get a time machine, I would kill Hitler last. First I would drop Susan Patton off in the Regency era. She seems like she’d be much happier there. That way, when she said things, people wouldn’t get upset and say, “WHY ARE YOU SAYING THIS? DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT YEAR IT IS?” and instead they would just nod and agree that those ill-favoured 16-year-olds were well past their prime.

Then again, she wouldn’t be able to keep telling people that she had been to Princeton. But, as she keeps insisting, you have to settle for certain inconveniences to get what you really want.

Susan Patton’s advice is a lot funnier if you have never seen a picture of her and you can imagine her wandering around in a cobwebby house in a faded dress holding a big candelabra and a grudge.

“BUY MY BOOK! YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO RAISE ESTELLA ALONE, SURROUNDED BY FIRE HAZARDS, LIKE I DID!”

The general gist of this book seems to be that Men Do Not Need Dating Advice and Men Can Just Waltz Around Plucking Young Nubile Ladies Off Of Lady Trees and that When Men Age They Just Get Distinguished-Looking and Some Men Go To Princeton And Those Men Are Even Better.

It just makes me want to come bursting through a wall shouting “OH NOOOOOOO!” like the Anti-Kool-Aid man, leaving a me-shaped dent in all the brickwork I encounter.

Spend 75 percent of your time at college looking for a man! (OH NOOOOOO!) Men don’t need dating advice! (OH NOOOOOO!) Patton was interviewed on the “Today” show, where Savannah Guthrie joked that some people would be upset to the point of throwing their eggs at the screen. At this, I half expected her to clutch her bodice and exclaim, “THAT WOULD BE A WASTE OF PRECIOUS EGGS! EGGS ARE THE ONLY RESOURCE A WOMAN HAS!”

She keeps giving you instructions to make you more nervous and frightened by your future. Imagine yourself at 35. Do you picture someone happy and successful who is not abjectly terrified of being alone? WRONG-O! You at 35 is a RAVAGED, ELDER CRONE, BENT AND TOOTHLESS, WITH A WRINKLY WOMB and no chance of producing HEALTHY SONS! WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO SUSAN? DON’T YOU SEEEEEEE?

The best thing is if you can arrange to have yourself married off in your infancy to a cousin from a long line of European royalty.

(WHAT ARE YOU DOING EVEN READING THIS BOOK? PUT DOWN THE BOOK! GET BACK TO COLLEGE! GET BACK THERE RIGHT NOW!
NO FASTER
NO FASTER)

It would be kind of funny if it weren’t sad.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the book:

Instead of looking for and possibly finding a life partner among my college classmates, I spent almost ten years after college dating men who weren’t as interesting, educated, or accomplished as my classmates had been. I ultimately married the man I had been dating for years, because if I was to fulfill my lifelong dream of having children, time was running out. He wasn’t the love of my life, but we marry for many reasons…
In retrospect, I realize that I may have squandered some of my best years looking for what I probably could have found as a student on campus when I was twenty years old. I wish somebody had told me when I was an undergraduate that I should look more carefully at my male classmates. There must have been many marriageable men in that group. Either I didn’t recognize them, or I carelessly dismissed them for superficial reasons, or I allowed myself to be shouted down by feminists who made me feel that it was a betrayal to the sisterhood for an educated woman to be so interested in marriage.

(Boldface is mine.)

This makes me want to give Patton a hug. But this isn’t advice. This is a counterfactual muddle, one part wishful thinking, three parts nostalgia, with a dash of alumni pride. “If I’d only known this then, at college where everything was magical and we lived in a charmed terrarium full of golden Ivy-educated people, I’m sure everything would have been different” — this is a wish. Who is the market for this book? People with access to genies? What is this, “Merrily We Roll Along”? “If/Then”?

It would make you want to give her a hug if she weren’t so adamant that the way to fix what ailed you was to get plastic surgery in high school, and that if you were taken advantage of when drunk, this was on you — in an interview with the Daily Princetonian, she likened it to not looking both ways before you crossed the street. Because that is exactly what it is like. Does that even hold up in traffic court? Nope. No. Sorry. No.

Her philosophy seems to rest on a few critical errors — for instance, that being able to talk freely about intellectual topics like (as she suggested in her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed) Noam Chomsky is the key to a good marriage. I talked about Chomsky a few weeks ago with someone I was dating, and after the first five minutes I was about ready to spit in his eye. None of this is based on real life. This is based on an imaginary alternative life that Susan Patton wishes she’d had. Some people meet in college and get married and stay married and have kids. Some people meet after college and do the same. Some people even meet in college and have a terrible time. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you regret something. The one thing you didn’t do is always exactly what it would have taken for you to be really happy.

I would love to read the book from alternate timeline Susan Patton who thinks the biggest mistake she made in her life was marrying a man she met at Princeton. I imagine this book would be titled ‘Never Marry a Princeton Man.’ “I SWEAR TO GOD,” the opening page would read, “IF I HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT NOAM CHOMSKY ONE MORE TIME, I’M GOING TO BOIL HIS HEAD.”

“Ladies,” the advice would continue, “I thought that marrying a man I met in college was the secret to happiness. But it turns out you can be miserable just anyhow.”

Instead, we have this. The advice, Patton says, for the daughter she never had.

Maybe if she’d had that daughter, she’d feel differently. But who knows for certain what would happen in an alternative universe? Apart, I guess, from Susan Patton.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.