This book is ultra-lite fiction – good for burning time at the beach or somewhere you may not be able to devote full attention to the story. Not to knock beach reading, however; The Ex-Debutante is a pleasant first-person narrative that will leave you generally satisfied at the end, if not particularly impressed.
In her hometown of Willow Creek, Texas, Carlisle Wainwright Cushing is considered a turncoat of the worst kind. After attending Willow Creek University and Willow Creek Law School, Carlisle takes her butt as far across the Mason-Dixon line as she can and lands herself a position at a prestigious Boston law firm. One day she receives a call from her mother, Ridgely Wainwright-Cushing-Jameson-Lackley-Harper-Ogden, Southern Belle Extraordinaire. Her most recent husband has filed for divorce, and she needs an attorney. Now.
When Carlisle returns home, she is greeted with the unfortunate news that opposing counsel is none other than Jack Blair, the lover she ran out on when she left home. While she finds him just as attractive as she did three years ago, she can tell he is not particularly happy to see her. As if she doesn’t have enough on her plate, the annual debutante ball that has traditionally been organized by her family is in danger of being canceled. Last year’s ball was a gigantic disaster, and the town’s most influential families have pulled their daughters out of the upcoming ball. Now Carlisle not only needs to uphold her family’s name, save the hundredth annual debutante ball, help her mother get the better end of her divorce, and face her old flame (okay, maybe her one true love), but she has to do it all under the scrutinizing eyes of her hometown. Can she do it? Yes, but barely.
The characters are simple, a little stereotyped, but in keeping with the light context of the story. It is written in first person, which is done well. Much of the humor is not derived from the dialogue or plot events (which are a little on the slow side), but from the inner monologue of a woman who is clearly holding on to sanity by an increasingly thin thread. This first person POV does come with Carlisle’s annoying habit of being a faux-smartass and giving her own definitions of words, like:
“Hunter Blair Hunt-er Blair pn (1963) a man who 1: fell very solidly under the (very) big money category with a (hugely) cringeworthy name 2: was the older brother of my mother’s opposing counsel (aka Jack Blair)…all of which led to 3: definitely not Ridgely Wainwright-Cushing-Jameson-Lackley-Harper-Ogden approved.”Carlisle is cleverer and funnier when she isn’t trying so hard to be snarky, and thankfully only the first few chapters are heavily littered with these definitions. Still, many of these definitions and mental lists of hers are long.
While Carlisle herself is well-realized, the other characters are not nearly as interesting and relationships aren’t as deep as I’d have liked. I wasn’t very curious about anyone except Carlisle, and while her flashbacks are kinda cute, nothing really resonated with me. I liked Carlisle’s relationship with Jack, and would have liked more attention on their relationship. Their attraction is always simmering close to the surface, but there’s not much in the way of meaningful dialogue or interesting scenes to deepen their connection. A few kisses, a scene in a bathroom, and that’s it. The debutantes themselves are pretty much an annoying bunch of self-centered teenagers, with the requisite diva-who-is-actually-a-lonely-child, the ugly-duckling-that-becomes-a-swan, and rebellious-misfit-who-saves-the-day-and-is-the-best-debutante-at-the-ball. Original, this story is not.
The law aspect bothered me while reading, because a cursory glance at the time line told me that Jack’s career is ridiculously successful based on how much time has passed. Carlisle’s actual time in court is laughable, and is on par with the Legally Blonde movies.
All in all, The Ex-Debutante is a solid book. It starts off slowly, but the hefty part of the story is fun and fast enough. It’s not hard to like Carlisle, and you’ll end up cheering for her happy ending. Just don’t expect a soul-stirring love story or characters ringing with passion, and you’ll have a great time.