Jennifer Spiegel’s first novel gives us a 30-year-old heroine who lives in Manhattan, writes a column for an alternative weekly and dates a hot finance guy with an apartment on Central Park West. But if you think we’re dealing with the second coming of Carrie Bradshaw, oh baby, think again. “Love Slave” is “Sex and the City” with a big ol’ nasty heaping of reality thrown in.

In Spiegel’s telling, columnist Sybil Weatherfield is strictly bound by the laws of financial gravity. Because she can’t live on the salary alt weeklies pay,she has to — gasp! — work as a temp, too. Her Greenwich Village apartment is extremely small and incredibly loud. She eats canned tuna. Her going-out dress is from the Gap. She keeps New York thin, but only by vomiting up any caloric indulgences. And though she hangs out with her best girlfriend at hipster cafes, pretty much all they do is talk about whether to leave New York. Oh, and her column — her self-described “neurotic little feature . . . completely devoted to [her] disappointments” — is called Abscess. As in “an open wound. Sounds a lot like obsess.”

And yes, these people do obsess. They whine (“I don’t like my life. . . . I’m thirty. I don’t want to be thirty-one here”), and then they whine about how whiny they are. “I hate this,” says the real love interest of the story, a Roy Orbison look-alike who’s the lead singer of an alt rock band called Glass Half Empty. “Naval-gazing, myopic, self-absorbed nonsense.”

If Sybil is tired of her own tiresomeness, her despondency, her arrogance, how is the reader supposed to feel? Mainly just glad not to be “biding time,” searching for grandeur in hard, proud, grimy Gotham.

Somewhere buried in all the fug, however, is a mid-’90s love story. In the background, behind these middle class, human-rights-obsessed college grads having their New York moment, Timothy McVeigh blows up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Superman is paralyzed after a fall, and Gen X blunders forward under the enormous shadow cast by the Baby Boomers. In the foreground, Sybil and the band guy become close, and the dance they do is irritating and sad and vulnerable and ultimately rather touching.

"Love Slave" by Jennifer Spiegel. (Unbridled/KYOKO HAMADA / GALLERY STOCK)

Deane is a writer who lives in Silver Spring


By Jennifer Spiegel


292 pp. Paperback, $14.95