The same can be said for Erika Ritter's The Hidden Life of Humans (Key Porter, 376 pages, $19.95 paper), a comic novel that is disappointing, considering the background of the author. Ritter, as a playwright, essayist, columnist, and broadcaster, has spent years honing her persona (apparently very funny in person). And, although this persona is evident in the novel's main character, Dana Jaeger, a woman in her mid-forties committed to a life of non-commitment and self-deprecation, it is oddly lacklustre. Overall, Ritter's humour is gentle; readers who expect something truly acerbic won't find it here. She cuts with an ordinary dinner knife, not a cleaver, and there is much that is predictable-even, to a large extent, the ending.
The lead players are an uninspiring bunch: Dana writes scripts for a TV show about a dog and spends her spare time engaging in meaningless relationships with various attached men whom she thinks of collectively as the Marrieds. Enter Carl Hart, a handsome, married-but-separated private detective who arouses in Dana a "new and unexpected appetite for fidelity"-which he has no real desire to satiate. Re-enter the New York radio host Jerry Glass, one of Dana's previous lovers, who asks her to take care of his dog, Murphy, while he goes abroad. When he arrives in Toronto with the dog, the Dana-Jerry romance is rekindled, and the plot edges forward from there.
Dana and Murphy form a deep human-canine bond. They also alternate as narrators, a literary tactic with undeniably amusing possibilities. Unfortunately, despite (because of?) his philosophical sensibility-his ruminations on the nature of freedom are his most interesting contributions-Murphy doesn't live up to his comic potential. Neither he nor Dana can suppress the seriousness beneath their surface jocularity and ironic perspective. And, while this underlying seriousness saves the book from becoming trivial-a mere situation comedy-it also weighs it down, suggesting that perhaps there is in Ritter a profoundly unfunny writer that wants out.