Loraine Despres, Author . Morrow $24 (352p) ISBN 0-688-17389-6

A former high school cheerleader dreams of adventure and gets more thrills than she bargained for in this rocky 1950s drama. Vivacious 31-year-old Sissy, faithful wife of Peewee LeBlanc (nicknamed by his bully of a father) and devoted mother of three, has been waiting in vain since her marriage at age 17 for some kind of adventure. But "nothing ever happens" in Gentry, La., where nosy members of the Southern Methodist Church spy on people and gossip, most women rely on a "tonic" called Hadacol (part sugar syrup, part alcohol) and Jews are suspect. Then, on a muggy summer day in 1956, Sissy's high school sweetheart, "tall, dark and Jewish" football star Parker Davidson, reappears from foreign parts, employed as a telephone lineman. Sissy seeks counsel in her Southern Belle's Handbook, an all-in-her-head compendium of advice from her mother and grandmother about attracting a man and keeping him. Some of the axioms are of her own devising, e.g., "A girl doesn't have to give in to temptation but she might not get another chance." As if giving in to temptation isn't dangerous enough, two malefactors plot against Sissy: her son, Chip, a scientist wannabe and an incorrigible blackmailer, and her father-in-law, a good ol' boy contemptuous of both Sissy and his son. Despres was a founding editor of the feminist journal Distaff, but the audience for her first novel will be more familiar with the television shows she has long written for, including Dallas and The Waltons. Careening wildly between farce and tragedy, the narrative never quite orients itself, casting about desperately for a center. Agent, Robert Tabian. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/24/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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