Tallulahland by Lynn Messina
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, PG) ISBN 0-373-25044-4
Tallulahland is one of the more literary Red Dress Ink releases that I’ve encountered, with a distinct style and an outrageous secondary character who almost steals the novel away from the titular heroine. But Messina’s “look, Ma, I’m using my English degree!” prose and her love affair with similes kept me at a distance from the heroine, minimizing my engagement in the story.  

Tallulah “Lou” West knows she’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater but that doesn’t stop her self-destructive behavior. She may be the daughter of famous furniture designer Joseph West, but Tallulah deliberately works as a lowly assistant to mass-production designer Marcos Medici to spite her father. She can’t forgive him for becoming involved with another woman so soon after the death of her mother from cancer, and she despises his new wife Carol, an ambitious socialite with twin daughters that Lou calls “evil alien bunnies from hell.” Despite pressure from her friend Nick, Lou refuses to ask her father for financial help to start her own design business, preferring to stew in her bitterness.  

The arrival in New York of her friend Hannah, an aspiring actress whose talent is eclipsed by her sheer ambition, heralds a change in Lou’s life. Her manically cheerful new roommate’s organizational spree leads Lou to a surprising discovery about a long-forgotten legacy from her mother. Suddenly Lou has choices she never dreamed of, but only if she’s ready to let go of her anger and grief. Perhaps it’s time to start living the life she wants, not the one she knows her father will hate.  

Tallulahland is funny in a warped sort of way. Many of its scenarios are ludicrous bordering on unbelievable, but you keep reading with amazement at Messina’s audacity. When Tallulah’s friend Hannah declares her intent to score the lead role in a movie directed by a former classmate despite her complete lack of experience, her plan sounds totally absurd but she manages to carry it off. In fact, Hannah deserves her own novel; her unapologetic self-centeredness and pure chutzpah is a hoot.  

Tallulah herself is more problematic. While I empathized with her over the loss of her mother, it was difficult to root for her because of her complete cynicism and emotional isolation. Her superior attitude towards the world covers up massive insecurities and she needs almost constant direction from Hannah and Nick to do anything proactive. When her longtime friendship with Nick suddenly changes to something more physical, it’s difficult to understand what he is getting out of the relationship.  

Emily Dickenson once wrote, Hope is the thing with feathers, and I’d guess that was Lynn Messina’s favorite poem, because she’s just smitten with similes. Bravery is a broken down car. Reality is a choppy ocean. The camaraderie of good friends is a favorite suede jacket that’s too tight in the shoulders. They’re poetic (that last one is rather creative), but also a bit pretentious. A little less of an English composition mentality would have made Tallulahland a better novel.  

Despite its weaknesses, Tallulahland is one of the more interesting Red Dress Ink novels I’ve read in the past two years. If you are artistic, you’ll appreciate Tallulah’s descriptions of her interior designs, but since I’m artistically-impaired they went over my head. Still, I enjoyed my visit to this unusual realm, and I just may drop in again someday.  

--Susan Scribner

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