The Continuity Girl / By Leah McLaren

HarperCollins Canada, 335 pp, $18.95, softcover

Is this really the best we can do? I'm not even talking (yet) about the content or style of The Continuity Girl, the first novel from Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren. More to the point: can we not discuss-frankly and honestly-a domestic debut of average ability? Is that so hard?

McLaren has been the subject of what passes for a catfight in this country. Former Vancouverite Ryan Bigge shat from the height of the Toronto Star books page onto Girl: "There exists no English word that adequately describes the not-so-goodness herein." He himself suggests "íƒ ¼ber-lousy", "fifth-rate", and "super-bad".

All very ha-ha (and there's no disputing McLaren's column sucks), but it seems likely that industry magazine Quill & Quire was right to peg Bigge's hatred of The Continuity Girl-the tale of a 30-something urban woman desperate for true love and/or a child-to a 2001 McLaren review of Bigge's own A Very Lonely Planet in which she wrote that Bigge is "an established legend in his own mind".

In the other corner, her employer saw fit to run a suck-hole fawn by fellow chick-litter Joanna Goodman: "brilliant" and-hold your nose-"we can't put the book down". Um, no.

The Continuity Girl is almost entirely obsessed with surface, which will surprise no one familiar with McLaren's "Generation Why" rantings. We meet main character Meredith Moore: "Everybody said Meredith was the perfect continuity girl. She wasn't just good at her job, she looked the part." Even the narrator gossips ("everybody said"). Even the narrator judges people by their looks ("looked the part"-maybe let us decide?). Meredith's film job (viz. the title) is "to fret and nag the director like a dissatisfied wife". This is chick lit: surely no intended reader of this genre wants to read that sentence.

Meredith envies her MILF friends ("Watching them, Meredith felt light as helium"). No argument: McLaren gives her characters a lot of buoyancy (Meredith's big lesson at novel's end: "Life, she decided, was inexplicably weird") but also a certain measure of compassion and charm. I didn't hate this book. I could put it down. Let's return to regular programming.