‘Twenty-One Truths About Love’ by Matthew Dicks | Credit: Courtesy

It certainly seems like a gimmick to write a novel composed entirely of lists, and yet Matthew Dicks pulls it off so successfully that by the time I finished Twenty-One Truths About Love, I was half-wondering why all novels aren’t written in list form.

The book’s premise is not earth-shattering: The narrator, or “list-maker,” Daniel Mayrock, has quit his job as a teacher and opened up a bookstore. Meanwhile, his wife, Jill, is expecting their first child, and Dan doesn’t have the courage to tell her that the bookstore is bleeding money. Instead, he makes lists. Lots and lots of lists.

His lists are nearly always titled, and they provide a sense of his nebbishy persona: “Four things to know before commenting negatively on another person’s choice of clothing.” “Things I don’t understand about football.” “What the Road Runner cartoons taught me.” “Places I urinated today.”

Ultimately, Dan decides the best way to get the money he needs to support his wife and child is not — as one might think — to sell his bookstore, but instead to rob a Bingo game catering to seniors. 

The relevant list is entitled “Actual rules of a gunfight that apply to my plan (which won’t include a gun).” In another list, Dan muses: “Old ladies a lot faster than I thought. Old ladies are smarter than I thought. 70 is apparently the new 50.”

Of course, not every list is equally memorable, but they are mostly brief and funny, and they keep the story, which is organized in a daily diary format, humming along. Indeed, if one were to replace “love” with “a good book,” Dan’s eleventh truth about love provides a fitting description of Dicks’s novel: “Love does not make everything better, but it makes everything a little easier.”

This review originally appeared in the California Review of Books.


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