'The Kissing List' Wanders Through Early Adulthood

This is a compelling concept, but it would have benefited from a more meaningful examination of how it feels to be 20-something.

The Kissing List

Publisher: Hogarth
Length: 223 pages
Author: Stephanie Reents
Price: $22.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-05

Stephanie Reents’s The Kissing List is billed as “a bold, inventive, and witty debut about navigating love and life in your twenties... we watch Sylvie, Anna, Frances, and Maureen as they try to maneuver that frightening yet thrilling decade in life when just about anything seems possible.” This is a promising, compelling idea that warrants attention and is reminiscent of MTV’s The Real World, in which the experiences of diverse young people with varying ideals and aspirations are explored.

In its early seasons, The Real World followed 20-somethings as they struggled to establish occupations, relationships, and personal identities while tackling serious issues including racism, AIDS, religion, and homosexuality. For several years, The Real World succeeded at documenting—in an intelligent and sensitive manner—young adults’ conflicts, disappointments, triumphs and tragedies. But the series eventually deteriorated into a Jersey Shore -style display of superficiality that does not accurately mirror the complex experience of those who have just stepped into adulthood.

This tricky stage of life is filled with potential material for a work of fiction: finding independence, building careers, breaking away from parents, and looking for love. In The Kissing List, Reents delves into all of these issues and occasionally reaches an emotional depth that reflects the often-painful transition into the adult world. Portions of the book are as effective as the first seasons of The Real World; however, the rest is similar to the program’s downfall.

The Kissing List is a collection of “interlocking stories” about several young women who have recently graduated from college. The most sympathetic of these characters is Vita, who “graduated summa and won a slew of awards from the history department,” decided not to attend graduate school, and currently dwells in the purgatory of temp work in New York City while enduring her parents’ disappointment. “Now do you regret not taking typing back in high school?” her mother says. “Everyone should be able to fall back on typing when they decide to waste their college education.” Later, when Vita’s boss tells her that she is a “good worker”, she doesn’t know if she should mourn her lost ambitions or just appreciate gainful employment. The harsh reality of being an adult has hit her, and she is unsure “whether to wilt or blossom.”

The Kissing List’s strength is moments of this sort, which are written in lovely prose and feel authentic and emotional. But the book’s weaknesses are the rarity of these moments and undeveloped characters with hidden motivations. Sylvie, for example, constantly describes kissing in a rambling and immature way, and she inanely repeats phrases such as “a kiss is a kiss is a kiss is a kiss.” Like a vapid seventh grader playing spin-the-bottle, she flits from one partner to another, but her reasons for doing so are kept secret. She has intimate contact with women, yet her feelings about her sexuality and the evolution of it are never addressed. Important issues are ignored, Sylvie is distant and muted, she and most of the main characters feel like strangers who engage in shallow romantic hookups of the more recent The Real World variety, and it is quite difficult to sympathize with them.

The greatest weakness in The Kissing List is its structure. The book could have been much stronger had it been written in traditional novel format with a distinct plot and consistent narration. But its vignettes are less powerful because their connection to each other is murky, and many of the stories read as a meandering stream of consciousness. The point of view alternates among characters, changes from first person to third person, and is sometimes so vague that its perspective is hard to determine.

The concept of the The Kissing List is an interesting one and its individual stories sometimes reach their marks, but the book would have benefited from a single, accessible narrator and a more meaningful examination of early adulthood.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.