Book Review | Burning Through ‘Playing with Matches’

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Playing with Matches

Hannah Orenstein

$16, June 26

Touchstone

As you start booking vacations for the summer, you’ll inevitably be starting to brainstorm what books you’ll bring to the beach that will be the perfect compliment to sunshine and warm weather.

Add Playing with Matches to that list.

The debut novel by Hannah Orenstein, the dating editor of site Elite Daily, follows Sasha Goldberg, a New Jersey native and recent NYU grad with a journalism degree who lives with her best friend Caroline and has a dreamboat boyfriend, Jonathan. As her dream career falls through, she needs a job, which she ends up finding as a matchmaker for Bliss, an elite dating service, by revealing her family’s secret: her mother was a Russian mail-order bride.


She helps clients set up dates by doing the heavy lifting — or swiping — most of us do on our own. She trolls through Tinder, Bumble, JSwipe and myriad other dating sites and apps to set up dates for clients like Mindy Kaplan, a 35-year-old TV executive whose deal breakers are “not being Jewish” and bad manners, and is noted to be wearing a Camp Ramah sweatshirt at one point; or Gretchen Phelps, who has an eight-page master guide for Sasha to help find her perfect match, including a list of potential hobbies they could enjoy together.

Sasha runs into trouble when her boyfriend betrays her — and she falls right into the arms of a match she was setting up for Mindy, and hooking up with clients’ matches is, of course, a no-no.

For the generation reading the book for whom scrolling and swiping through dating apps have become the norm, the story will entertain and certainly resonate. Orenstein was a former matchmaker, and she gives insight into the people behind the new crop of yentas and how they do their work. Some matches work, many don’t, but Orenstein keeps it entertaining along the way. It’s not hard to imagine this story being turned into a movie.

It’s a breezy story that will go perfectly with a margarita on the beach. Its storyline sucks you in, the writing is simple and voice-y, and Sasha is an engaging protagonist whose problems are relatable even if you aren’t a matchmaker. There are enough little twists in the story to keep you wanting to read on, so don’t be surprised if you end up finishing it in one sitting (I did).

Of note, the ending is satisfyingly realistic — no neat little bow tying up the loose ends and magically fixing any other problems; you’ll just wonder how things work out for the characters.

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