What’s worse than being stood up on Valentine’s Day? Siobhan’s morning coffee date with her standing hookup was supposed to test the waters of them becoming more than just a good time. Miranda’s fancy lunch with her new beau was supposed to reinforce the seriousness of their relationship. And Jane’s date—well, Jane’s date was with a friend who agreed to play the part of her boyfriend at a social event so her nosy co-workers would stop matchmaking. The man hurts all three women with his absence. Yes, man, singular. Because the guy who ditches them all is the same person, one Joseph Carter.
It sounds like a premise for a French farce. In fact, anyone familiar with the play Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti—or the movie adaptation with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis—might think they know where the story is going. But if you’re expecting an absurdist comedy in which everything is played for laughs, you’re in for a surprise. While Beth O’Leary’s The No-Show is frequently funny and playful, it’s never silly or frothy. O’Leary digs deep into the stories of these women: They’re three-dimensional, thoughtful, challenging people dealing with real problems and real feelings that are absolutely no joking matter. They also have great friends, who are fleshed out and fantastic characters in their own right, giving the story not just a sense of place and community but a genuine feeling of warmth. Each woman gets only a third of the book to herself, but O’Leary manages to convey intimate knowledge of each woman and her loved ones . . . with one exception. Joseph remains something of a cipher. O’Leary never steps inside his head to understand what he’s thinking or feeling.
O’Leary cleverly uses literary smoke and mirrors to keep Joseph’s motivations mysterious, and to keep the reader invested regardless. But the fact that such a pivotal piece is missing for most of the novel may leave readers cold, especially those looking for a more traditional love story. Siobhan, Miranda and Jane are painted so vividly that it’s frustrating to have their mutual love interest merely sketched in. When the romances aren’t center stage, The No-Show is a terrific read, filled with people who are enjoyable company even when the story goes to dark places, including struggles with doubt and insecurity and past traumas involving sexual manipulation and a miscarriage. O’Leary is a great storyteller, with keen insight into all the phases of romance, even falling out of love.
The No-Show is sweeter and sadder and deeper and lovelier than I expected, and I enjoyed reading it. But I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t constantly been questioning “whydunnit.”