21 March 2008

Book Review: Comeback Season by Cathy Day

Any time a woman writes a book about dating and relationships the market assumes it will be a trendy “how to” manual, a fluffy Chick Lit novel, or, worse yet, an insincere combination of the two genres. Most serious scholars wouldn’t look twice at books in this category. For many serious critics and readers, the thought of a book about football and the agony of traversing the dating world couldn’t possibly hold any literary value. For this reason, Cathy Day’s memoir Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love, is not only unable to be easily categorized, it shakes up notions of where and how about social theory and commentary can take place.

Comeback Season chronicles Cathy Day’s experience jumping back into the dating game over the course of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts season. A lover of both football and “locker room speeches,” Day uses the tenacity of Peyton Manning and the Colts as an inspiration to make a genuine effort to overcome dating obstacles in her career, a new city renowned for dating difficulty for professional women, and her own patterns of unsuccessful partner choices. She bravely reveals her foray into the online dating world, and single-handedly fights a predatory scam dating service. At times Day’s emotional admissions are all too painfully familiar to many professional women, but she manages to keep things in perspective with a sharp wit and outright laugh-out-loud humor. Day employs an imaginary female sports reporter to inject both self deprecating humor and social commentary, and it quickly becomes clear that the reporter embodies the traditional expectations that Day has to fight against throughout her dating season.

More importantly, Comeback Season is a commentary about the unexpected results of the feminist movement. It is now far more common for women to put off getting married out of high school or an undergrad program in order to pursue a career and education. This is, unquestionably, a success for the feminist movement, but it doesn’t take into consideration the disparity between developing personal relationships and professional success that so many of those independent women, such as Day, face. When young girls were told that they can be whatever they wanted, all too often their attentions turned to career aspirations woefully devoid of female role models. Logically, then, those same young girls looked to male heroes to pattern their career paths after. Decades later it is no wonder that daughters of the early feminist movement are the ones left with the task of figuring out how to navigate between domestic desires and professional aspirations without crumbling under pressure to abandon one or the other. Couple this with the high personal and professional expectations of university English departments, and Day captures the complex lives of many female academics today.

From Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love:

…The ivory tower is full of single professional women, but in my experience, they very rarely talk about the similarity of their situations.

I was feeling mighty down the day of the exit interview. When Hattie asked me why I was leaving the college, I paused for a second and said, “Deep, soul-crushing loneliness.”

For a second, I thought we both might start crying. Hattie looked deflated, like I’d knocked the wind out of her with those words. “I know what you mean,” she offered. But then she recovered herself. She stood up from her chair, smoothed her blue skirt, and gave me a firm, businesslike handshake. “Good luck, Cathy.” (109)

To dismiss Comeback Season as merely a dating memoir is a mistake. Too often “serious” social commentaries are expected to be dry, boring, emotionless, and full of jargon. Because Day writes with an accessible, often humorous, style and does so without masking the core issues of her journey behind opaque symbolism, the questions her experience raises will reach more women, and generate more constructive discussion about road blocks women face, but are ashamed to discuss for fear of being perceived as weak. After all, the problems that intelligent, professional women face aren’t trapped inside the ivory tower. Cathy Day brings those issues to the streets in a way anyone can understand.

Review by Dawn Papuga

1 Comment:

Susan at One-Woman Show said...

Dawn, I finished Cathy's book last night and found so many things in it I could relate to! The football isn't innate to me (hey, I didn't grow up in Steeler country!), but even Cathy made it make sense. Thanks for the review.