The Curl Up and Dye
I love makeover stories. The classic Pygmalion tale of a woman who discovers just what she can accomplish is a story I never seem to grow tired of hearing. Not all such tales turn out fabulous though. In this case what starts out as an interesting story winds up bogged down by its determination to wallow in small town clichés.
Life sure can change on a dime. And get stuck in a rut. LilyAnn Bronte feels her life took a serious turn for the worse shortly after high school. She went from being the Peachy Keen Queen of Blessings GA to a pathetic shadow of herself when her fiancée died shortly after he shipped out. LilyAnn gained weight, lost her zest for life and has been working at the local pharmacy ever since. Her routine never varies, the people she spends time with never change.
What brings LilyAnn back to life is a blast from the past. As she sweeps in front of the pharmacy she hears the “low sexy rumble of a hot-rod engine” which recalled her to the sound of Saturday night dates, when her boyfriend would “rack the pipes on the muffler” as he came to pick her up. Until that sound, LilyAnn hadn’t felt much of anything for anyone, afraid of letting folks in for fear of once more losing them. The sense of awakening stays with her as she goes to the Curl Up and Dye for her weekly hair appointment. Just as she is settling in to enjoy her “me” time she hears the sound again. The truck with the hot-rod engine comes to a stop right in front of the salon! And in comes a hunk in a long sleeved tee, fitted Wranglers and a dove grey Stetson. LilyAnn finds herself growing teary eyed as the memories of her lost love are brought to life by this handsome stranger. But it’s not just her memories that are awakened – something about him brings LilyAnn’s long dead libido back to life too.
LilyAnn knows she is no longer the kind to awaken a lustful response in return. She has worn her misery for the last decade in the extra pounds around her hips and middle. Even as she goes to dinner with best friend Mike Dalton she realizes that she wants to make changes, the kind of changes to herself and her life that will result in her finally living again – and maybe even catching the eye of the sexy stranger.
All the town is excited to see LilyAnn coming out of her shell, Mark most of all. He has had a crush on her since junior high and her return to life means a return of his chances to win her heart. Yet he realizes that what started a fire in LilyAnn wasn’t him but a stranger. Has his chance come and gone without his being aware of it? Does LilyAnn’s desire to ditch dead weight mean she’s going to jettison him as well?
For the most part this novel is very typical of the small town stories so abundant in the market right now. We have a hero and heroine who have known each other forever and finally realize that nothing from out there can possibly compare to what’s available in their sweet little town. We have a place full of folk who love and support each other and whose bad apples are redeemable. We have cute little local events. We experience the joy of being in a place where everyone knows your name and butts into your business only to be helpful.
Like many small town heroines, LilyAnn is a Mary Sue character. A beauty, who beneath those extra pounds has a heart of gold, can rescue people in desperate situations, is the first on the scene when bad things happen and can kick butt when needed. I was okay with her Mary Sueness because she had just enough rough edges to make her seem real. Mark didn’t fare as well since he is just a foil for LilyAnn.
Which brings me to one of the points I felt uncomfortable with in this story. Mark’s whole life seems to revolve around his beloved, who doesn’t even know she’s his beloved. At the end of the book something we learn he has owned for years pushed the situation from obsession to downright creepy for me. It’s nice to be firm in your affections but there comes a time when that devotion takes a turn to the dark side and I felt that time was when Mark whipped this object out. Somebody had spent way too much time dreaming of a future that didn’t really belong to them.
The second disturbing factor for me was how everyone called LilyAnn fat and big until she redeemed herself by losing fifteen pounds. Talk about a blow to the body image! With America’s obesity problem I couldn’t help wondering how many women would be shocked to learn that even fifteen extra pounds pushes you towards being the object of ridicule or pity. I understand the novel takes place in a relatively short period of time and needed a realistic amount of weight for LilyAnn to lose but making such a big deal out of her excess baggage and then having it be a relatively low number seemed a bit disingenuous to me.
The book is a pleasant read in spite of those two quibbles but it never really rose above average for me. While I would love to recommend it I can only see it being a must buy for a rabid Sharon Sala fan or someone who is obsessed with small town reads. Otherwise I would give it a pass.