Desert Isle Keeper
Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
I love stories that turn gender roles and social expectations on their head, so a book about a forty-something, tattooed, bar-owning grandma with a younger boy-toy sounded like a lot of fun and right up my alley. It was fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but what I didn’t expect was a story that was also wonderfully emotional, poignant, and a touch bittersweet.
Red Cullens is the 46-year-old owner of Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar in San Antonio, Texas. She’s never felt totally comfortable in the “mom” role, and only sees her daughter and grandchildren a couple of times a year. She also has a deep distrust of men, and dumps them as soon as they start to bore her — which usually isn’t very long. But Red’s life is about to change in very significant ways.
First, she realizes that she’s starting to develop feelings for her latest boy toy, 32-year-old fiddle-player Cam Early. Then she gets stuck on grandma duty while her career-Army daughter is serving in Afghanistan. If that weren’t enough, her rowdy bar is now being threatened by the reconstruction aimed at gentrifying her blighted neighborhood.
A few pages into Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like Red. Her relationship with her daughter and grandchildren seems so distant, she’s so averse to caring for the kids, and she’s so defensive with Cam. But characters aren’t always what they first seem. As the story went on, the more I grew to not only like Red, but also have a great deal of respect for her.
The story is told almost exclusively from Red’s point-of-view—with occasional glimpses into her granddaughter’s perspective through emails to her mother — because this is first and foremost Red’s story. Normally I prefer multiple points-of-view because it gives me a stronger sense of the characters, but Morsi’s writing and characterizations are so good that it’s not necessary. Red, Cam, the grandkids, and the myriad of secondary players are all solidly three-dimensional, interesting characters that add to the story rather than detract.
While Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar is not a romance, it does have a strong romantic subplot. Red and Cam are complex characters, and as Morsi peels away their layers it is both an enlightening and enjoyably emotional process. I loved the growth and change in their relationship, and felt Cam was a wonderful man for Red: strong, independent, patient, and loving. Even as I write this review, just thinking about the love and acceptance he gives her makes me a bit teary-eyed.
Readers should be warned that this is not a story with a traditional happily-ever-after. It’s not a sad or tragic ending, but it’s not a birds-singing-all-is-wonderful ending either. Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar is a story about making peace with the past, taking a chance on love, and embracing the uncertainty of the future. I think it’s very worth the read.