Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank

From Goodreads: Peter Herman is something of a folk hero. Marriage Is a Canoe, his decades-old book on love and relationships, has won the hearts of hopeful romantics and desperate cynics alike. Peter and his wife lived a peaceful life, but now it’s 2010, and his wife has just died. He passes time with a woman he admires but doesn’t love—and he begins to question the advice he’s famously doled out for decades.

Then he receives a call from Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor who wants to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Marriage Is a Canoe with a contest for struggling couples. The prize? An afternoon with Peter and a chance to save their relationship.

The contest ensnares Stella in the opaque politics of her publishing house, while it introduces the reader to couples in varied states of distress: a shy thirty-something Brooklynite whose husband may be just a bit too charismatic for his own good; a middle-aged publisher whose imposing manner has imposed loneliness on her for longer than she cares to admit. Then there’s Peter, who must discover what he meant when he wrote Marriage Is a Canoe if he is going to help the contest’s winners and find a way to love again.


Is there anything wrong with liking the expected? Much like Love Is a Canoe’s Emily, I enjoy dark chocolate, white wine, cashmere, yoga, literary books, and obscure movies. Do I like it because it is expected of me (a twenty something science librarian who likes to travel), or do I like it because I genuinely enjoy these things? I don’t know and neither does Emily. Just something to think about…

Love Is a Canoe is the new novel by Ben Schrank. I’ve read a handful of other reviews and this is a novel that seems to be a hit or a miss with readers. I firmly believe it is one of the former. I absolutely, unequivocally loved it.

The story follows the lives of couple Emily and Eli, Peter, and publicist Stella as their lives slowly intersect. Emily (my favorite) has an ongoing internal struggle over the idea of how life should be. Eli is just an absolute cad. Peter is an emotional con man. Stella is a young professional obsessed with her job at a publishing house. These characters coming together equals disaster, funny only because it is fictional. (Side note: If any man ever explained to me “Women like me and you know I say yes” as an excuse for poor behavior…I don’t know what I’d do, but it would involve bloody, violent thoughts (I’m not prone to action – typical introvert)).

Disarmingly simplistic chapters from Marriage Is a Canoe, Peter Herman’s bestselling book, are interlaced throughout the story. Herman’s book doles out heartwarming advice like stay in your own canoe (marriage) and take time to be alone together.  These sage bits of wisdom, though bordering between sweet and ridiculous, work quite well within the story.

Love Is a Canoe is an immensely readable, funny, heartwarming (yet sad), witty, romantic, and hopeful novel about the demise and delusions of love, marriage, and career. There are moments of brilliant dialogue, raw emotion, and brittle hope. You might even learn a bit about publishing. And love. And that perfectly retro cover is an image to be savored. 5/5. Review copy provided by Sarah Creighton/FSG.

I’m always curious about authors’ playlists, find Ben Schrank’s Love Is A Canoe playlist here.


The novel has many food references, though I wouldn’t call it foodie fiction. Since it is set in New York, I’m choosing the obvious and going with pizza (an opportunity I rarely pass up). Try the classic Pizza Magherita.

Goodreads/Maria Robleda

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  • picturemereading

    Another great review, and I love the look of the pizza..yumm!

    • Rory O’Connor

      Thanks, I can’t resist a good pizza. I think it tops the list of my favorite foods – there are so many combinations, it doesn’t get tiresome. And the book is quite good if you like literary fiction.

  • DrFrood

    Looked up ‘Rory’ on urban dictionary. Human google indeed.

    Cad and con man, sounds bon. But I’m sulking because I feel the title of your featured novel unfairly impugns canoes and their owners.

    • Rory O’Connor

      Superficially, the title is quite complementary to canoes and said owners. To a canoeist, love is, perhaps, a canoe. Upon further reflection (and completion of the book), I can see where you’d find offense. And as I sincerely care about the mental health of any potential readers benignly searching love + canoe, I promise no more canoe slander – henceforth strictly verboaten.

      (…a shame I can’t promise that about bad puns)

  • DrFrood

    There are no bad puns, only bad people (for not enjoying said puns).

    • Rory O’Connor


      And you’ll be thrilled to know my year just improved: Dan Brown’s written a new book (how did I not know that was happening?) to be published this May. 2013 just got infinitely better.

    • Rory O’Connor

      I just saw the premise – apparently it’s about Dante, do you think it will be hell to read?

      • DrFrood

        You know they say that a million monkeys with a million typewriters will eventually produce Shakespeare?

        Well a long, long time before that they’ll come up with the complete works of Dan Brown.

  • Lucy

    You sold me on this one. Just put on library hold. Love that there are references to publishing, and that all the characters intersect. And now I’m strangely craving pizza 🙂 Thanks for putting this on my radar!

    • Rory O’Connor

      You’re welcome, I hope you enjoy it (and let me know!).

  • DrFrood

    PS: Here is a quote from David Sedaris (whom I love) that seemed appropriate:

    “He took a sip of my father’s weak coffee and spit it back into the mug. “This shit’s like making love in a canoe.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “It’s fucking near water.”

    • Rory O’Connor

      Very fitting, and I just choked on toast, nearly made being up before 8 worth it.

      Would you believe I’ve never read anything by him (own a couple though)…?

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