Eighteen-year-old Lizzie Vogel lands a job in a local dentist's office after answering a classified ad for a "mature lady with a strong interest in dental issues." The job comes with an apartment of her own, as well as an eccentric boss, a high-strung coworker, and the occasional call to perform light dentistry herself.
Nina Stibbe’s Reasons to Be Cheerful is so dense with amusing detail that I thought about holding the book upside down to see if any extra funny bits might spill from the creases between the page ... Events turn a shade darker in the second part, and the momentum flags a bit when the focus shifts from dentistry to driving lessons. But it hardly matters; the pleasure of this novel is in the quirky characters, the effervescent writing and the comedy in just about every line.
The whole thing is very well crafted. Stibbe will drop the seeds of unwritten chapters into asides – glimpses of a wider comic world in little metonymies ... The book is set in 1980, and the period detail is exact and remorseless without ever quite shading into camp or kitsch ... as things progress the story changes gear, giving a fuller resonance to what could otherwise be taken as a simple assemblage of whimsy and kookiness ... The spirit of Victoria Wood, I think, hovers over the way Stibbe generates tender human sympathy through an accumulation of mundane provincial detail.
... wonderfully entertaining ... Ms. Stibbe’s brand of humor is refreshingly sweet and light-fingered even when events turn tragic, though it’s also steeped in its time and place, so some of the jokes will be lost on non-British readers who haven’t heard of Kevin Keegan or Sue Arnold. No familiarity with Lizzie’s previous adventures is required to enjoy Reasons to Be Cheerful, however. As an entry point into Ms. Stibbe’s growing epic of idiosyncratic provincial youth—her Vogeliad—it works just fine.