Monday, July 23, 2007

"There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going To Hell" by Laurie Notaro

Ms. Notaro is one of the authors that Amazon keeps telling me to read, so when it showed me that she had a fictional work, I finally relented and added it to my Wishlist. Amazingly enough, my best book buddy in Indy found me a copy post-haste and sent it on to me.

This is basically the story of Maye Roberts, a journalist and modern woman living with her husband Robert in Phoenix, AZ. Robert gets a fabulous job offer from a university in Spaulding, Washington, after which they uproot their lives to relocate to the tiny town that sewer pipes built. Yes, that's right - this is a town founded on poop, or rather, the means to deliver poop to treatment plants. The sewer pipe manufacturing business burnt down long ago and now the town is populated mostly by hippies and staunch environmentalists. It's a quiet little place to settle down and perhaps raise a family, get to know your neighbors, become part of the community.

But not for Maye. While Robert is busy with his new colleagues, Maye is desperately attempting to make friends, a feat that is proving to be far more difficult than she ever imagined. Writing freelance articles isn't helping any, either, as she doesn't have a ready-made pool of people to choose from like her husband. The first half of the book is devoted to Maye's mishaps at reaching out to form lasting bonds in her new hometown. By mid-book, she's managed to alienate the local mailman (and has been required to have her dog attend obedience school, which helps her in the end), the local coven of witches (all three of them), and a group of vegetarians, led by the rather militant Bob. Oh, and she's managed to make an enemy-for-life out of the Dean's wife, one Rowena Spaulding, all by wearing "the wrong sweater" to a faculty function.

At wit's end, Maye runs into her real estate agent and spills her tale of woe, only to find out there might be a way to win the town's love; she needs to enter the Sewer Pipe Queen Pageant, preferably winning it. Then everyone will adore her. After her first choice of coaches is inconveniently killed, Maye tracks down Ruby Spicer, one of the most famous (and infamous) Queens of all time. Ruby was adored by the entire town and won the crown hands down, then suddenly vanished midway through her reign, never to be heard from again. There were rumors that she was responsible for the rash of fires that summer, including the one that burnt down the sewer pipe factory.

The novel really gets good when Maye and Ruby meet and start working together. Maye needs Ruby's advice to win, and Ruby needs someone to believe in her again. The May-December friendship starts off rocky but quickly grows into a true, loyal and actual loving bond, one that helps Maye realize that she can make friends after all. Of course, this being a comic novel, the pageant does not go off without a hitch, and the results are almost disastrous. They are also very revealing, as Ruby finally admits who the real arsonist was and why. Does it have a happy ending? Yes and no. But I'll let you find that out for yourselves, as I'm hoping you'll be on your way to a local bookstore/library to find this little gem.

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