‘Mr. Perfect on Paper’ by Jean Meltzer is an insightful novel that explores Jewish life and matchmaking

In her second novel, Jean Meltzer continues writing about something she’s rather an expert on: Jewish life. “Mr. Perfect on Paper” is a charming tale of finding love where you least expect it, and while it’s a romance, it’s also a glimpse into the lives of people who are struggling, but keep their struggles private. Her delightful main character, Dara Rabinowitz, is ridden with self-doubt, suffers from GAD, general anxiety disorder, and is very candid about it. Because of her disorder, Dara prefers to live life close to her bubbe, Miriam, spending time with her and otherwise working from home while running her extremely successful and lucrative business, a Jewish dating app called J-Mate. Her mother died, and Dara is also close to her sometimes-pushy sister.

But while the app she created works to find matches for other Jewish singles, Dara remains alone. Her anxiety precludes her from doing many activities, but one of her favorite pastimes is watching a daytime TV show called Good News New York. She loves watching the co-host Christopher Steadfast, and the popular pet feature, Bucky the vegan golden retriever. When J-Mate is marketing a new feature on its app, the opportunity to talk about it on the show is irresistible. Dara and her bubbe Miriam are booked to talk about their respective careers as matchmakers—Miriam the old-fashioned kind, having made over 300 matches in her lifetime, and Dara with her app making connections using her grandmother’s protocols updated into modern technology. Dara is thrilled she will get to meet Chris, whom she has admired from her TV screen.

When her grandmother goes off script on the show and shares a list that Dara drunkenly made one night with her sister about her requirements for a perfect husband, Dara is humiliated. But viewers are charmed and the clip goes viral. While Chris had been in danger of losing the show because of poor ratings, they are now, thanks to Dara and Miriam, looking great. So what could be more natural than Chris and Dara teaming up to find her a perfect match using her own list of requirements and airing the dates on the show? Obviously, the first requirement is that the man be Jewish. He must be a doctor or lawyer. While having the soul of an artist, and speaking a second language, he should have no baggage like previous marriages or children. Christopher fails on all accounts, but that’s okay because he’s intent on finding Dara her Mr. Perfect.

As Chris gets to know Dara, he’s charmed by her vulnerability. She, in turn, is touched by the way that Chris really gets her and understands her quirkiness and her anxiety. He knows how to help her get over her fears in a manner that is supportive but not condescending. And along the way, we fall for both of them.

Meltzer’s writing genius is her ability to create characters we really care about. In this novel, we really come to care about both main characters. And Meltzer also is able to share Jewish holidays, Jewish culture, and the huge differences in the ways Jews practice Judaism so that readers can understand how Dara lives her life. Some of the information is pretty esoteric, so much so that this cultural Jew had to ask what the phrase “hot dairy” means. Meltzer kindly explained that while some observant Jews who keep kosher will only eat in kosher restaurants, others will eat at restaurants that aren’t kosher, but only vegetarian foods. But the levels of compromise are such that some won’t eat any dairy (cheese) that is heated because such foods, like eggplant parmesan, are cooked on a grill that might have been contaminated by meat. Stricter Jews will just stick to cold foods to avoid that possibility. She also points out in the story that there are also Jews who will eat anything, including bacon and shrimp. And it’s all done in a manner that completely rejects any judgmental feel. While Meltzer might keep kosher, it’s obvious that she doesn’t judge those of us who don’t.

Meltzer’s writing is at times brutally honest in the emotional struggles the main characters face, and she’s very open on social media about the struggles that she, herself, faces. Perhaps it’s because of such honesty and self-reflection that the main characters seem so vivid and real. Dara’s anxiety is helped by listening to a police scanner, and she explains that listening to the stories and tragedies makes her feel less alone in the world. And it makes her realize that no matter what, life goes on.

What Dara realizes after apparently finding the man who checks off every single item on her “Mr. Perfect” list, is that sometimes you have to listen to your heart, not your brain. Her “perfect” man, it turns out, sets off no sparks. In life there are no guarantees, and while something might appear to be perfect, there needs to be a connection, a feeling, a certain inexplicable something that draws two people together. And that’s more important than religion, than career, than any of those points that Dara had itemized and that she felt were important. In pursuit of perfection, one might find imperfection, a relationship that comes together beautifully and very imperfectly. Because none of us is perfect, but we can be imperfect together.

Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.