Marsha Moyer

 

The Last of the Honky-tonk Angels

 

A midday movie daydream book.

 

For what it is it’s done well. The writing is fluid, and the characters and settings painted competently. The technique of jumping between narrators works. At its best the style reminds me of Cynthia Voight’s excellent Tillerman series. If you want to go with it, you can.

 

But if you do, you are sitting on your lounge, turning off your brain, eating something fattening and probably wasting time that would be better spent elsewhere. I could have gone on with it, but I wouldn’t have liked myself for doing so – there was something positive about me flicking the off switch about a third of the way into it (which is a lot later than if I’d been watching a Hallmark TV version).

 

What’s my point: that enjoying some books is valid, while enjoying others is not? Yeah, a shaky contention, I acknowledge that and won’t bother trying to justify it (maybe another day).

 

I mean, it’s not as if I only enjoy realistic novels: I’m about to give a big rap to an Iain M. Banks book with billion year old aliens; I relish P.G. Wodehouse. Or even that I can’t stand happy endings or nice characters: I occasionally rail at writers like Steven King or Robert Cormier for being immaturely bleak. But what’s uncomfortable with me is that if feels like we’re supposed to take the characters in this book seriously – even as wise, earthy, down-home folks. Yet while Moyer is a step (not a huge step) up from Disney, there really is a lot of sentimental tosh going on here. She’s created a place a little like reality, but there’s just too much daydream. Hence, probably, her popularity, and praise like ‘life-affirming’, but I’m not sure: we might want the world to be like this, but somewhere the humans have been left behind.

 

Lets start at the start. Actually, this is a sequel – lets start from what I’ve gleaned about Book 1, ‘The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch’, from Book 2. Much as Pilcher’s ‘Shell Seekers’ was porn for grannies, I feel like Moyer is doing the same for middle-aged women. In both books the authors imagine an indulgent and unrealistic ideal for their readers (perhaps someone not that far removed from themselves) – hence the porn reference (less about sex, more about daydreams), and then write it up. For the former sixty/seventy something, this is having delicious control over her children, totally reversing King Lear’s story so that the parent can almost tease the grasping children with an inheritance that she ultimately spends on herself and on her Cordelia – the good child who always cared more about her mother than the money. In the latter, well, might there be some thirty or forty-something women out there who are a little (or very) discontented with their marriage, and pine for something more Mills and Boon-ish? Meet Lucy, whose selfish and unattractive spouse has the wonderful decency to kill himself in a farming accident, and then, hey presto, the superman heartthrob of the town just falls madly in love with her, devotedly wooing her over great distances, turning down all the other girls throwing themselves at him, and then they fall into each others arms and have the best sex ever.

 

Very life affirming. Not at all daydreamy – what was I thinking?  

 

OK, well here in book 2, no joke, on page 1 we commence with a continuation of this sexual nirvana, this blissful state where, moreover, unfallen Eve Lucy, naked and more than unashamed, vocally relishes just how perfectly voluptuous she is. Her partner, Ash, continues in his utter devotion, despite absurd depictions of random girls continuing to hurl themselves at him (for example, the moment he steps into a mall, all the sweet young things at the make-up counter press their business cards on him, desperate for him to ask them out) – think of 50s movies where girls swoon as soon as Elvis or whoever walks down the street.

 

But where this book is supposed to rise above a trashy romance novel is the introduction of a previously estranged daughter. How will this honeymoon couple cope with a surly, troubled teen? You’d think she’d be troubled – her mother just dumps her on the doorstep and never attempts to contact her, and she’s just been torn from all her own friends and home. Well, yeah, tough job dealing with a kid with all that baggage – who also was abandoned by her father who’s made no attempt to contact her since she was two. Heavy.

 

No, strangely, dreamily light.

 

I suppose that’s what bugs me, what invalidates the book for me. Sure, throw in some tricky issues and relationships, but, please, don’t then expect me to take this faff seriously as how this might play out. Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons doesn’t offer such cheap resolutions, and even if she had have bunted for a more happy ending, it still would have been a world more insightful.

 

What are the answers for this traumatised girl, this scarred relationship? Well, she just needs to look after herself a bit more – do something with her hair, get a makeover. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, Dad is just a dreamy and talented Country singer – probably going to be picked up by a major label … and (I didn’t read this far but the neon thirty foot writing was on the wall) gosh darn it if the daughter isn’t just the most talented singer too. With such a storybook connection, who could care that he’s acted like she doesn’t exist for most of her life.

 

There are other bits and pieces going on, and, like I say (and like I do in some – generally more action oriented genres), you can turn your brain off and Moyer will carry you along with her simple solutions to difficult problems (that’s the wisdom). I mean, you do hear people saying silly things like, “All that girl needs is …” , but we really shouldn’t give it this much credence. This book, however, does – the freedom of fiction to make the world work the way you think it should, as opposed to how it actually does. Dr. Phil may look like he’s solved a decades long marriage crisis in between two or three add breaks, but, c’mon, this is fantasy. It’s soap opera, the characters are too good to be true (e.g. Dove), and the dialogue generally saccharine and/or immature.  

 

But it’s not being sold as fantasy, and you shouldn’t be watching TV at 1pm.

 

(Maybe I just strayed into the wrong genre accidentally – I borrowed this book on the recommendation of a friend with a mammoth personal library. Maybe readers are as aware as I am that life isn’t like that, and are just enjoying the tropes as much as I might enjoy a sword fight or a car chase elsewhere. Maybe.)

 

June 2011