Penny, n.

Madeline McDonnell. Rescue Press (SPD, dist.), $14 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-9885873-0-4
“Penny was pretty. Or so she’d been told” is how this novella begins, defining Penny and plunging readers into the mined territory of female fashioning. Penny’s widowed mother, who takes to her bed with a bottle of champagne (in St. Paul, Minn., seemingly in a time-warped midcentury boudoir), raises Penny on classics she’s altered to feature happy endings and reminders not to go outdoors and ruin her complexion. Penny grows up assuming “romantic luck,” and spends her 20s finding out how wrong that assumption is. When she turns 29, her mother dies; when she turns 30, Penny looks in the mirror and decides that her vaunted prettiness was a myth. Now what? While singing standards at a local bar, Penny meets Guy, a handsome lexicographer. Concisely and often wittily, McDonnell (There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out) describes their romance, which leans heavily on hypocorisms (pet names and their use, to nonlexicographers), from ecstatic beginning to awful ending, brought on, in part, by Guy’s work on the definition of a particularly vexed epithet. Benjamin Mackey’s charmingly strange drawings make the pocket-sized, well-designed book feel like a dictionary from an alternate universe. It helps; we’ve seen feminine misadventures of this kind before, but not in this particular setting or format. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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