'Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love,' by Cathy Day

Her personal ad: Must like beer, Indianapolis Colts and a writer's curiosity

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Americans are marrying later, and more live alone. It's a state that's particularly on view in Pittsburgh, a town famously tough for singles, particularly transplants.

For those spending long hours at the office, Internet dating and matchmaking services have become the best hope of escape from an isolating cycle of work, TV, dinner over the sink and weekends in pajamas.

Standing at the nexus of these societal realities, Cathy Day decides to suit up and play the field, inspired by her beloved Indianapolis Colts.

By Cathy Day
Free Press ($24)

Her book is a refreshingly strange amalgam of sports saga and coming-of-middle-age memoir about a smart, accomplished woman who suddenly realizes in her late 30s that she has somehow ended up alone.

Growing up, Day was in no hurry to get married and have kids, instead pursuing a dream that wasn't part of the script for a small-town blue-collar Indiana girl -- becoming a writer.

By the time she lands in Pittsburgh, a 37-year-old professor and author, she has fallen in love with the Colts, Peyton Manning and at least one man who shared years of her life without commitment. Musings on how she came to be the odd woman out in a coupled world intertwine with the painfully honest chronicle of her game plan to find love.

She will spend one complete football season seeking Mr. Right, or at least Mr. Promising. She and the Colts both hope to end the season with a ring.

So she hurls herself into the singles scene, a shy person meeting strangers in coffee shops, a writer wincing at the vague, ambivalent profiles of her online prospects, a brittle romantic writing checks to the predatory matchmaking industry.

She's so close to being a perfect match for Pittsburgh:

Her family is religious and humble, she adores them and the place where she grew up, she likes handy men who drive pickups, she drinks beer, eats chili and lives and dies by the fortunes of her football team.

Alas, her family and hometown are in Indiana, and her team isn't the Steelers.

So she is left with the big questions faced by an accomplished single woman:

Why am I still single? Why don't men call when they say they will? Why is a successful man attractive, while a successful woman is intimidating?

Why do women's careers usually take a back seat to their husbands'? Is all really fair in love and war?

Friends and family give conflicting advice: Trust your gut -- or has it steered you wrong? Don't try so hard, or try harder.

Day's candor is breathtaking and, considering her position at the University of Pittsburgh, quite brave. She's open about her idealism and fear and possibly more revealing than she knows about her tendency to overthink and overanalyze. As a protagonist, she can make you lean back and shake your head.

But as an author, she injects narrative diversions, like clever imaginary interviews with a sports reporter, to lighten the mood when it's growing heavy.

There's also lots of football. Day is close to obsession with her studious and intense hero, Manning, and his team; readers looking for breezy chick-lit may lose traction when Day spends pages on play-by-play and analysis.

The effect is like channel-surfing among "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Oprah" and "SportsCenter," but the pieces are held together by Day's compelling writing and the truth of her insights and images:

"He's playing Match.com the way I've seen men play Madden NFL '08 on Xbox -- with absolute focus and boyish glee."

"I always think I've picked the right guy. But it seems like every time I start getting a little bigger, he feels a little smaller."

"Comeback Season" feels like a reality TV show with the reversals of a football game and leaves us not with a fairy tale but a locker-room speech.

There's always next year.

Samantha Bennett can be reached at sbennett@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3572.


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