Rhonda the Rubber Woman

Norma Peterson, Author Permanent Press (NY) $24 (248p) ISBN 978-1-57962-003-5
The irreverent, vernacular voice of Georgia Sayers plunges the reader into the working-class world of this immensely appealing first novel set between 1930 and 1947. The ""town floozy"" of Maryville, Pa., Georgia has always been a neglectful mother at best to her daughter, Nancy, who was born out of wedlock. It's when her latest boyfriend, club-footed carnival novelty salesman Eddie Jeffers, moves into their tiny house that Nancy feels acutely unhappy about her mother's unfettered lifestyle. Nancy, a smart and feisty teenager whose unsentimental version of events alternates with her mother's, lives for a brief time with her boozy Aunt Cora, until her bullying, violent Uncle Walt returns from the Army. Feeling worthless, she can't believe her luck when high-school classmate Bobby Felker asks her out, and she's heartbroken when he ends their relationship for mysterious reasons. After Eddie notices that she's double-jointed and encourages her contortionist talents, Nancy enjoys a brief stint as Rhonda the Rubber Woman in the Magic Midway traveling carnival. Eventually, she lights out for Philadelphia to escape the past she knows and the one she doesn't (just who her father really was). Peterson's funny and touching debut has the ring of truth about the cruelty of small-town life, and her eye for detail is canny and refreshing. She never condescends to her blue-collar characters: Nancy's unsophisticated candor makes her appealing; hard-veneered but pathetic Georgia's lack of discernment about sleazy men, and her commitment to the non sequitur, keeps her from being purely villainous. The novel's considerable energy will leave readers wishing that there could have been a sequel. Unfortunately, Peterson died after her manuscript was accepted for publication. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
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