BOOK CLUB: ‘Funny You Should Ask’ is a delightful romcom that loses steam

Anna Ford, Staff Writer

Imagine spending a fun-filled weekend with your celebrity crush. That is exactly what happens to the witty protagonist in The Seahawk’s November book club pick, “Funny You Should Ask.” If you are a fan of BookTok rom-com novels, “Funny You Should Ask” is for you. While falling into the traditional rom-com pitfalls, there is still Hollywood-esque entertainment to be found throughout.

Published on April 12, 2022, “Funny You Should Ask” is Sussman’s fourth novel and debut in the world of adult literature. Before becoming an author, Sussman worked in the entertainment industry as a manager and is featured in the credits of movies such as “Princess and the Frog” and “Tangled.” This experience appears to have influenced her writing, as “Funny You Should Ask” dives headfirst into Hollywood politics and gender roles in pop culture.

The novel uses a dual timeline to tell the story of Chani Horowitz, a struggling writer with contempt for New York, and Gabe Parker, an up-and-coming actor in need of good press. What follows is a weekend full of celebrity hijinks, instant connections and an article that leaves one big question: what really happened between Chani and Gabe during their wild adventures?

Sussman uses an epistolary style to expand the scope of the story and provide a wider view of the narrative, interspersing the story with articles from other writers set in the same world. Throughout the novel, readers find themselves rotating between the first weekend Chani and Gabe spend together and the second, with a ten-year gap in between. The back-and-forth nature allows for fast pacing and superb suspense-building throughout the story. Chani serves as the primary narrator and the sole perspective on what truly happened between her and Gabe, using both the true events of their whirlwind weekend and her lightly fictionalized account to tell the story.

Sussman’s novel follows a recent literary trend concerning the loose fictionalization of celebrity drama into a delectable story that is easy to digest. “Funny You Should Ask” shares similarities with an infamous GQ profile chronicling one writer’s wild weekend spent with actor Chris Evans. The article, published in 2011, contains many plot details found in “Funny You Should Ask,” such as the actor inviting the writer to a party, and the writer sleeping in the actor’s guest bedroom after having too much to drink. The animated writing style mirrors Chani’s voice, and the article also received backlash following publication for its unprofessionalism. Books that seem to use the same kind of inspiration include “Admission” by Julie Buxbaum, following a similar premise as the Lorie Laughlin college admissions scandal, and “The Royal We” by Heather Cocks, which attempts to capture the buzz surrounding the relationship between Prince William and commoner Kate Middleton.

“Funny You Should Ask” is this months pick for November’s Book Club. (Goodreads)

In the fashion of many rom-com heroines, Chani herself follows the oft-lamented “not-like-other-girls” trope yet remains relatable to a variety of audiences. Her struggles with legitimizing her work in the eyes of the public and feelings of inadequacy are honest, while her toxic on-again, off-again relationship showcases a frequent pattern. Chani traps herself in the expectations and assumptions of others, and her eventual growth and acceptance of herself is beautiful and allows her arc to end in a satisfying manner.

The men of “Funny You Should Ask”—leading man Gabe, charming best friend Oliver and smarmy ex-boyfriend Jeremy—stand alone in their own right. Both Gabe and Oliver struggle with hiding part of their identities from the public eye and showcase a strong male friendship not often seen in romance. Gabe is a flawed but earnest love interest that grows throughout the novel into a man whose pursuit of Chani feels honest and genuine.

Jeremy provides the antithesis to Gabe and Oliver’s charm by relying on overinflated self-confidence and belittling others at every turn. While Gabe and Oliver add humor and depth to the novel, Jeremy serves only as a point of contingency for the main couple and as another symbol of Chani’s dissatisfaction.

“Funny You Should Ask” attempts to tackle feminism and the role of women in journalism with some success. Despite this, Chani is the only female character shown to contain depth. Actress Jacinda operates solely as competitor for Gabe’s attention in the past, while best-friend Katie appears only to provide encouragement to Chani in the present. The lack of nuanced female characters undermines the novel’s feminist reputation.

Like sparkling cider left out overnight, much of the promise shown in the early pages of Sussman’s novel fizz out and fail to reach a rewarding conclusion. Chani displays an unrealistic lack of character growth over ten years despite having been married (and now divorced) and moving across the country, remaining the same untethered character until the last few pages. Gabe, on the other hand, faces numerous changes throughout the time spent apart from Chani. While his character growth is largely positive, he is rendered near-unrecognizable by the changes, making it difficult to reconnect with this older version of the character.

Culminating in perfect circumstances involving a Hallmark-like town and carefully crafted happily ever after, “Funny You Should Ask” does most of the hard work in the space between past and present, making the ending feel largely unearned. The tonal shift erases the bubbly atmosphere of the past scenes in favor of a slow present, undercutting the lively storytelling that could have permeated the entire novel.

Like in many BookTok romance successes, “Funny You Should Ask” often showcases the sparkling chemistry between its leading couple. Readers uninterested in spice should avoid pages 244-249 and 301-310 and will not miss crucial plot details.

Though not without its faults, “Funny You Should Ask” is a captivating novel perfect for fans of adult romance and witty writing. Effervescent and wish-fulfilling, it serves as a wonderful escape into a world of red-carpet events, paparazzi and second chances.