Merrill Markoe, Author . Villard $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-50712-0

Who can say, with a straight face, that every birthday they've ever experienced has been the perfect occasion, with every wish granted and all dreams fulfilled? Certainly not Markoe's nameless single Anywoman, who begins journaling her yearly observations with hilarious dedication when her ex, Carl, surprises her with flowers on her 36th birthday and her parents' traditional celebratory dinner turns out to be—yet again—an experiment in terror. In this veteran comedy writer's first novel, seven special birthdays are analyzed with increasing insight and joie de vivre guaranteed to make this the perfect gift for all women who face birthdays with grim determination, pepper spray and sharp fingernail files. Each year, Markoe's protagonist, an L.A. art teacher, carefully writes down "What I Learned This Year That I Want to Remember" and charts her attempts to stay out of "the Hole," the place where hapless "smart, fun, attractive women in their late 30s and upward" fall into "whining, moaning, hoping for escape," keeping the reader nodding in wry agreement. Witty, biting observations include: from her 36th birthday, "No more voluntary participation in bad sex"; from her 37th, "No more shopping with Mom"; from her 38th, "Don't make a big deal out of the fact that there were no guys this year"; from her 39th, "When you have never loved at all, at least you have enough attention span left to get some reading done" and "Never continue to interact with someone who cannot define the word 'soon.' " Markoe teaches the joy of laughing through pain and bubbling through toil and trouble. (Feb. 19)

Forecast:As a multiple Emmy winner and the original head writer for David Letterman, the author should have no trouble promoting her book on the talk-show circuit or her five-city author tour.