My Old Man

Buffalo News

Margaret Sullivan

Amy Sohn’s novel, “My Old Man,” will make you laugh. It may also make you blush, or perhaps blanch, depending on how you react to descriptions of steamy, sometimes raunchy, sex.

Sohn has written what amounts to a grittier version of “Sex and the City,” set in a less glamorous part of town: Brooklyn, rather than Manhattan.

The similarities to Candace Bushnell’s popular tour de force are no surprise. Sohn, who writes the Naked City column for New York magazine, is also the author of “Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell,” the official companion book to the late, lamented HBO show. She’s steeped in the lingo, and apparently, the life, of New York’s frisky single-girl culture.

Her second novel is the story of 26-year-old Rachel Block, a good Jewish girl from the neighborhood (the newly hip brownstone neighborhood known as Cobble Hill, to be precise), who grew up doing everything to please her parents. She made it an art form — right up to entering rabbinical school.

When we meet Rachel, though, she’s about to run screaming from all that. She drops out, starts bartending, and begins shedding her good-girl persona.

Yes, that’s where the wild sex comes in. Much of it, which results in the occasional rope-burned wrist, is with charismatic screenwriter Hank Powell, a thrilling and appalling older man with whom Rachel falls in love. He’s alternately charming and abusive, just the ticket for a sheltered young woman yearning to break free.

Meanwhile, her father has a steamy extramarital affair with Rachel’s housemate, and things get rather complicated as the Electra complex rears its bed-tousled head.

It’s all pretty silly, but written with considerable intelligence and wit, which brings the whole thing up a few notches. Sohn is truly funny — a rare and wonderful quality in any novelist.

Consider her reflections on meeting her parents for dinner:

I was one of the few twentysomethings I knew who actually liked spending time with their parents. I was always the center of attention and they always got the check. . . . It was like those magnets you see on lesbian refrigerators: “The more people I meet the more I like my cat.” That was how I felt about my mom and dad.

Clever, contemporary, and candid, Sohn’s novel is a blast of the Zeitgeist, overflowing with jargon, dropped movie-star names, and the latest chatter. It’s a quick immersion course in all that is trendy and urban. Once you read it, you’ll be all caught up on such crucial concepts as sexual safe words (the masochist’s version of crying uncle), how to order a vodka and cranberry cocktail without sounding like an idiot, and what to say to Harvey Keitel at a house party.

But “My Old Man” turns out to be not as superficial as it may sound. In addition to being whip smart and a fluid writer, Amy Sohn has soul. That’s what adds much-needed depth to this lighter-than-air entertainment, giving it more heft and resonance than one might reasonably expect.