With Goodbye Earl, Jo-Ann Mapson says goodbye to the women of Bad Girl Creek and brings this engaging trilogy to a satisfying close. With her unique but natural voice, Mapson has brought to life the abiding friendships among four diverse women that illustrate Girl Power at its best.
It’s been five years since the events chronicled in the Mapson’s previous novel, Along Came Mary. After a somewhat regrettable detour into the problems of honorary Bad Girl Mary Madigan, this novel returns to the four women who first came together in Bad Girl Creek to live, love, work and laugh while living on Phoebe DeThomas’ coastal California flower farm. Actually, Goodbye Earl opens up in Alaska, where Beryl Reilly now lives with the man she once considered the love of her life. After seven happy years together, Earl has become very distant and Beryl fears their relationship is nearing its end. Her worries are confirmed when Earl leaves for a nature hike and never returns. Was foul play involved or has Earl just flown the coop? Meanwhile, Ness Butler says goodbye to her soul-mate David, who is in the last stages of AIDS, while also wondering if her own HIV-positive status will remain in remission. Wheelchair-bound Phoebe struggles to keep up with her spirited six-year old daughter, Sally. She also has to fight the urge to be an overly protective mother, due to her fear that the bad luck that caused her lover Juan to be killed in a car accident on the day of their wedding will be visited on their daughter. To add even more stress, she’s also worried about her brother James and his wife, former Bad Girl Nance, who have been devastated by several miscarriages. Then there’s the new, fancy florist that has opened right across the street – will it spell the end for DeThomas Farm?
The Bad Girl Creek novels are much more than a bunch of chicks sitting around talking. The women have all grown from the challenges they’ve faced in the three-book series, but they’ve retained their distinct, quirky personalities. Phoebe is a smart-mouthed, outspoken, self-admittedly cranky woman who isn’t above using her wheelchair status to gain a seat in a crowded restaurant. In addition to dealing with her fears as a mother, she faces her insecurities as a woman when she starts a relationship with a handsome Southerner and has to decide if she’s ready to open her heart after such a tragic end to her last affair.
Ness, a tall, deeply spiritual black woman, is Phoebe’s best friend, but she’s keeping a secret about her relationship with David that puts their friendship at risk. She too meets a new man, but their relationship develops in an unexpected direction. Despite her losses, she is able to dispense a great deal of comfort and wisdom to the other women.
The reader gains the most insight into Beryl’s personality. Alone in Alaska with Earl out of the picture, she has lots of time to reflect on a difficult past that included rape, domestic violence, manslaughter and prison before she came to Bad Girl Creek. Was Earl another one of her many mistakes or did he truly care about her? Middle-aged and pre-menopausal, Beryl figures her love life is over, so she’s surprised when both a younger Native American bird expert and an older police detective show an interest in her. Perhaps the most rewarding relationship in Beryl’s new life, however, is the friendship she develops with her young driving instructor, whose chaotic life allows Beryl to offer someone else the sanctuary that Phoebe once gave her.
Mapson’s writing incorporates a healthy regard for the natural world. Almost all of the women have pets, and their relationships with the diverse group of animals provide their characters with greater depth. Beryl, up in Alaska, can observe a large variety of wildlife, and she interacts with bears, owls and her foul-mouthed parrot Verde. The novel’s main character owns a flower farm, so plants also enrich the novel; each section begins with a short description of a flower native to either California or Alaska whose symbolism links to the women’s experiences.
My only complaint about the book is that we see glamorous, anorectic Nance only through the point of view of the other characters, and that the resolution of her infertility is a little too convenient. The other Bad Girls learn that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to, but Nance seems protected from that eternal truth.
The Bad Girls Creek trilogy is notable for its nuanced, warmhearted, gutsy characters. I recommend that you start with the first novel, which is the best of the trilogy, and work your way through to Goodbye Earl. Like me, you’ll wish you could spend time hanging out, eating chocolate, watching chick flicks and bonding with Phoebe, Beryl, Ness, Nance and their loved ones.