Jill DiGiovanni’s debut novel, Designs on Him, places the author on equal footing with such better-known commodities in the “chick lit” genre as Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner. The novel follows the efforts of thirty-year-old Noel Kingsley at maintaining a successful career in interior design while simultaneously trying to find that most-elusive yet ironically ever-present of the genre’s chimeras: the perfect man. What she finds instead is what makes this novel especially interesting and also what distinguishes it from others like it: a decidedly imperfect man.
Despite being attractive and confident, Jake Truman comes with his own share of baggage. For one thing, he’s twenty years Noel’s senior. For another, he’s not as forthcoming as he might be. The result is a novel in which a young female protagonist must learn to navigate not only the relationship between her personal and professional lives, but also the complications inherent in May-December relationships. To wit: Will Noel continue to stand on her own two feet and trust her own judgment, or will she succumb to accepting the received wisdom of the dashing older man whose designs on her are as fraught as her designs on him?
The plot and characters of DiGiovanni’s debut are, in some ways, reminiscent of those in works by Charlotte and Emily Bronte. (Indeed, I halfway suspect that the umlaut over the “e” in Noelle’s name, unreproducible here, is a subtle nod to the same in the Bronte’s surname.) Issues of wealth and class heighten the narrative’s stakes, while long-held family secrets add a sense of mystery and texture to the proceedings. To put it another way, DiGiovanni clearly understands the mechanics and subtleties of her chosen genre as well as she understands its history. The result is a curious and compelling cross between 19th century romance and Sex and the City.