Book Review: “The Decent Proposal” by Kemper Donovan

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

Donavan’s debut novel is a loving portrayal of the city of Los Angeles today, which is clearly first hand and personal. This alone is refreshing, since we all get plenty of LA stories, but most of it isn’t about people who really live there or love it.

The “proposal” in the title is a silly thing, right out of romantic comedy. Two strangers, with no known connection, are offered a million dollars to meet and talk two hours per week for a year. What the heck? This makes no sense, but, of course, Richard and Elizabeth pretty much have to do it, no?

I know, it’s totally ridiculous. Though… having done graduate work in the social psychology of interpersonal attraction, the “DP” does sound to me like a really, really cool psychology experiment.

Anyway, the story is full of “things to do in LA”, especially, things that people who actually live and date there really do. In particular, he describes many places in LA, clearly with first hand knowledge and considerable affection. I enjoyed this perspective, even though I never go to LA, and certainly will never go “dating” there.

The story is also filled with a variety of characters, and we come to care a great deal about them. These are Angelenos, so they care way more about movies than I do, even though most of them aren’t actually in show business. All the glitz adds flavor to their everyday problems, but also makes troubles all the sharper and darker. It must be really weird to live in Hollywood.

Despite dark and troubled pasts, everyone struggles toward some kind of happy ending, to connect with each other, and help each other. It’s nice.

This is a nicely crafted and surprisingly literate story. I could see Steve Martin making a movie of it (I have no idea if any movie is contemplated).

I look forward to more from Donavan.

  1. Kemper Donovan, The Decent Proposal, New York, Harper, 2016.


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