Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
is rivaled by a fictional sibling: Michael Lee West's Crazy Ladies
. West's tale of wild women down South is faster and snappier than Wells's thick bayou prose gumbo, but it has some of the same virtues--a cast of wacky characters, lively regional dialogue, and a satisfying multigenerational time frame. The scene shifts from 1932 to 1972, and from Crystal Falls, Tennessee, to New Orleans to hippie Frisco and L.A., though it's mostly rooted in Tennessee, where sunflower gardens contain deep secrets and kids can light up whole summers with lightning bugs in a jar.
The crazy lady who starts the story is Gussie, vexed by her ornery first daughter, Dorothy. When Dorothy's kid sister, Clancy Jane, comes of age, the real ruckus begins, thanks partly to Gussie's helpless preference for sweet Clancy Jane over dour Dorothy, who calls Gussie "Mother Dear" from age 6 on. Sweet Clancy Jane turns out to be headstrong, too--she runs off in a poodle skirt with Hart, who works on oil rigs, Esso stands, and the odd Cajun girl on the side. And then the '60s hit, bringing on Gussie's grandkids, Bitsy and Violet, plus some jolting social changes reminiscent of Lisa Alther's Kinflicks. Though it's spiced with horror (rape, crib death, one character buried alive), the dominant tone is breezy humor. At one point, the sister with "thighs that could break a man's neck" catches her husband and her shapelier sister "wrapped around each other like stripes on a candy cane." Not a magisterial novel, but a really good read. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
The characters in West's promising first novel are richly eccentric and they exist in a colorfully evoked setting. However, there's little tension in this saga of a family in small-town Crystal Falls, Tenn. Though the story begins with the shock of a murder and the attempts of Miss Gussie Hamilton, resident matriarch, to conceal it, the murder has little importance in the ensuing narrative, even when the body is unearthed decades later. Meanwhile, Miss Gussie, her three daughters and their daughters endure various dramatic vicissitudes, including a fair share of illegitimate births, betrayals and divorces. (Three generations of daughters reunite under Miss Gussie's roof). Miss Gussie's daughter Dorothy is the only truly "crazy" lady among them: her whining sibling rivalry blossoms into self-absorption and culminates in nasty, dangerous paranoia. The extremity of her neurosis seems unwarranted unless one accepts her as a bad seed, but she remains the family troublemaker until she receives her well-deserved comeuppance. Cultural referents, such as pop song titles and lyrics, keep the time frame intact and convey the cadence of life in the rural South, and though readers may become somewhat exasperated by Miss Gussie's flaky kin, they should enjoy West's portraiture of women who triumph over the problems that fate and their own difficult personalities bring into their lives.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.