Little Bitty Lies
by Mary Kay Andrews
(HarperCollins, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-06-019959-8
***
Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but I just didn’t get Little Bitty Lies, the latest release from Mary Kay Andrews. Was I supposed to take the novel seriously, or was the whole thing an irreverent lark? While I value dark humor, I also need to connect to the characters, and that never happened during the novel’s 400+ pages. But while the book’s full appeal remained largely elusive, I appreciated the fact that it was not the same old story told once too often.

Happily married Mary Bliss McGowan is the voice of reason in the long relationship with her outrageous best friend Katherine. She even thinks that Katherine should consider reconciling with her ex-husband Charlie, who has taken up residence with a younger woman Katherine labels the Bitch-Whore. But when Mary Bliss comes home one night to discover that her own husband Parker has left her after emptying out the couple’s bank accounts, rational behavior is no longer an option. After all, she has a beautiful house in a wealthy Atlanta suburb to maintain, as well as private school tuition for her 17 year old daughter Erin. When pawnshops and part-time jobs result in less money than anticipated, Mary Bliss is forced to take desperate measures. Soon she and Katherine are on their way to Mexico to stage Parker’s death and cash in the one insurance policy he didn’t touch.

Their plan goes seriously awry, and Mary Bliss returns to Atlanta to face even more problems. A defiant Erin is barely speaking to her. Her mother-in-law Eula is outwardly hostile. Parker’s former golf partner, Matt Hayslip, is asking too many questions. And while Mary Bliss is trying to avert homelessness and arrest for insurance fraud, she is also wondering - where the hell did Parker go? And why?

Atlanta native Mary Kay Andrews nails part of the Southern Fried Humor she seems to be aiming for - the Southern part. From Mary Bliss’ calling her mother-in-law “Meemaw” to the list of Eula’s requisite cooking supplies (White Lily all-purpose flour, Dixie Crystal sugar, Martha White grits and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup), you never forget you’re reading a book that takes place in the deep South. Despite everything that happens to her, Mary Bliss is very much a Southern Lady who is determined to maintain her dignity, even when she’s handing out unappetizing food samples at a warehouse discount store.

The Fried Humor, however, is harder to achieve. I was vaguely amused by the unusual plot developments. But some of the humor is of questionable taste, and the juxtaposition of Mary Bliss’ crazy stunt with her daughter’s very real grief seemed cruel. Also, I searched in vain for an anchor amidst the chaos of Eula’s disagreeableness and Katherine’s wildness, and heroine Mary Bliss wasn’t strong enough to fit the bill. I kept wondering why she wasn’t making more of an effort to communicate with her hostile daughter, especially when Erin starts acting unbearably obnoxious after Parker “dies.” I couldn’t help thinking that Mary Bliss was either incredibly self-centered or not very bright.

Readers are clamoring for heroines with spunk, and I suppose that faking the death of your cheatin’, lyin’ husband is a step up from the passive virgin heroines in many contemporary romances. Despite its length, the book did read quickly, and I kept turning the pages to discover what plot twists Andrews would unleash next. But the uneasy mix of comedy and drama kept me at a distance from the characters. Early reviews have compared Mary Kay Andrews’ work to the novels of Jennifer Crusie and Susan Isaacs, but until she learns how to combine those elements more seamlessly, she can’t yet be considered in their league.

--Susan Scribner


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