Mad Girls in Love

Michael Lee West, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (527p) ISBN 978-0-06-018406-3

With young Bitsy Wentworth's nose-shattering blow to her philandering husband Claude's handsome face (motive: self-defense; weapon: frozen rack of baby back ribs), West launches this warm but overloaded chronicle of three generations of Southern female eccentricity and spunk. It's August 1972, and Claude is out cold, so Bitsy flees Crystal Falls, Tenn., with their baby, Jennifer, a move that will lose her custody of (though not contact with) her daughter while setting in motion her evolution from girl-wife to worldly interior decorator 20 years later. This follow-up to West's debut, Crazy Ladies, reunites readers with familiar characters, including Bitsy's mother, Dorothy McDougal—who from a Nashville mental institution wages a letter-writing campaign to Pat Nixon on Bitsy's behalf—and Dorothy's sister, Clancy Jane, a hippie cafe owner. Despite well-wrought moments of reconciliation between estranged women throughout (Jennifer's ultimate gesture of forgiveness for Bitsy is especially understated and touching), the novel bogs down in endless female feuding and repetitive male faithlessness (i.e., Claude; Bitsy's second husband, Louie; and Jennifer's almost-husband Pierre). Quirky minor characters and subplots overcrowd this 500-plus page novel, but when West focuses on the complexities of familial or romantic relationships, the novel is at its most heartfelt. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/23/2005
Release date: 07/01/2005
Ebook - 544 pages - 978-0-06-116003-5
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Ebook - 544 pages - 978-0-06-186373-8
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