THE MEN’S GUIDE TO THE WOMEN’S BATHROOM is a spunky debut novel from JO BARRETT that aspires, with mixed results, to break through the glass bookshelf of the chick-lit ghetto. Readers will recognize the likes of Claire St. John, a self-effacing, thirtyish divorcée who flees her New York law career with the vague notion of becoming a writer in Austin. Realizing she will not be the next Dave Eggers, Claire drags her laptop from cafe to coffee shop (Barrett trumpets her hometown with shout- outs to such venues as Polvo’s, Captain Quackenbush’s, and the Continental Club), tapping out her manuscript about the secret sisterhood of the powder room— coincidentally titled “The Man’s Guide to the Women’s Bathroom.” Barrett has a likably comic voice (Claire confesses, “I have the willpower of a raccoon”), but too often the punch lines get trampled by dialogue that evokes a Magic 8-Ball (Is Jake the one? Outlook not so good). The question is not whether men can divine the mysteries of the ladies’ loo but really whether they should bother.
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