cover image The Tall Pine Polka

The Tall Pine Polka

Lorna Landvik. Ballantine Books, $23 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-345-43317-6

Having previously created beguiling characters in Patty Jane's House of Curl and Your Oasis on Flame Lake, Landvik invites readers to belly up to the counter and join the regulars sipping coffee at Cup O'Delight Caf in Tall Pine, Minn. In this swift-moving romp, Lee O'Leary, the Cup O'Delight owner, is a 210-lb., 40-year-old redhead who fetched up in this north woods tourist town three years ago while fleeing her abusive stockbroker husband. Lee's coffee shop is the daily rendezvous for idiosyncratic locals: shoemaker Pete, suffering unrequited love for Lee; Mary Gore, famous for her bad poetry; Slim, the barking 'Nam vet; and lesbian couple Frau Katte and Miss Penk. When Hollywood invades Tall Pine, the eccentric population triples. Location scouts for a grade-B flick, Ike and Inga, find their perfect leading lady in the book's central figure, 22-year-old Fenny Ness. Ever since her adventurous parents died in an accident in Belize, Fenny has run the local bait and craft shops. Fenny is reluctant, but her friends persuade her to take the Hollywood plunge. Lacking guile or malice, plainspoken Fenny transforms the Hollywood types, standing up to a tyrannical director, flooring more than one nasty talk-show host, and making life-long friends of the other actors. Meanwhile, Fenny struggles to win and keep the man she loves: Big Bill, a half-Polynesian, half-Chippewa musician and athlete, who floats into town to reconnect with his Indian heritage and stirs up romantic rivalries between Fenny and Lee. The endless nattering of Landvik's locals (the tale is told mostly in dialogue) doesn't add up to much in terms of character development, but the lengthy novel is good-natured and zooms along, fueled by zany Minnesota energy. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection; 8-city author tour. (Sept.)