|I liked everything about The Bikini Car Wash except the romance. Mainly because there really wasn’t much of one. Pamela Morsi paints her characters with a fine brush, but the attraction between the two leads was virtually nonexistent, as though it was shoehorned in.
Andrea Wolkowicz has left her high-profile job with a Fortune 500 company and returned to her hometown of Plainview to help care for her father, Walt, and developmentally disabled twin sister, Angela, known as Jelly. Their mother died a few months ago, and Walt and Jelly seem at a loss. Walt closed his business, the Plainview Wash and Wax car wash, some years earlier and retired. Now he and Jelly deliver Meals on Wheels. If Andi can only find a job, she’ll rebuild her life in Plainview.
Except jobs are thin on the ground in a struggling Midwestern town, even for someone as talented as Andi. Frustrated, Andi turns her thoughts to the long-closed car wash. What if she opened it for the summer, and staffed it with bikini-clad women who need employment? Andi puts her plan into action, and before you can say “soapsuds”, the protesters start coming out of the woodwork even as the guys in town (and some of the ladies) start bringing their cars in for a wash.
One guy who’s not protesting is Pete Guthrie, the manager of a local grocery store that’s just across the street from the car wash. Andi and Pete go way back. He was her high-school crush; she was a geeky math nerd whom the popular kids teased unmercifully. And right in the thick of that crowd was Pete Guthrie. Now they’re both in their late twenties. Pete is divorced and struggling to make a go of the family business, and Andy has made a success of her life so far. Pete doesn’t mind at all if skimpily-clad women wash cars across from the store – it’s good for business.
Pete and Andi eventually strike up a romance, but it’s strictly behind closed doors and not very convincing. Andi snaps and snarls at Pete until one night they just go to bed together. We’re told they’re very attracted to one another, but it seemed to be more a romance of convenience – there aren’t many unattached singles in Plainview, and it’s been a while since either of them had sex.
Morsi doesn’t spend too much time on them, however, because there is a host of secondary characters who need page time. Walt is romancing his high-school sweetheart in secret. The two women who help Andi run the car wash, Tiff and Cher-L, have their own man problems. Pete’s father is a philandering, class-A jerk who loves to find fault with his only son. Pete’s mother copes with her disastrous marriage by taking various trips to other parts of the globe (one wonders why she doesn’t just divorce the SOB). Jelly is obsessed with the TV showLaw and Order and can quote whole episodes verbatim. And Pete’s secretary, Miss Kepper, has worked for Guthrie Foods for thirty years and is in love with Pete’s father, not that he gives her the time of day.
The external conflict consists of outraged citizens protesting the car wash, and this is only semi-believable. I could buy that a few older folks and ultra-religious types might raise an eyebrow, but throngs of irate citizens equating the wearing of a bikini with peddling porn seemed a bit over-the-top. Hollywood tends to take this view, because Hollywood basically knows nothing about the Midwest and thinks this sort of cliché sells movie tickets, but I expected more from an author of Morsi’s caliber. At any rate, Andi soon finds herself up against the town council, which is somewhat controlled by Pete’s father.
Morsi does a fine job of detailing all of her characters. Jelly is the cornerstone of sorts, as each chapter opens with a chapter in her viewpoint, but the story doesn’t turn around her. Walt’s pride and love for his daughters manifests in different ways, and his relationship with Jelly is lovely and warm. The author doesn’t skimp on the difficulties of raising a disabled child, and when Walt refers to Jelly as his “shining accomplishment”, it was a highlight of the story for me.
The secondary cast pulled the story in a lot of directions. It felt fragmented at times, and Andi and Pete definitely got shortchanged in the romance department. Maybe that’s why I closed the book thinking they’d go their separate ways in six months, after the pull of sex wore off.
Pamela Morsi has a great feel for a small Midwestern town facing tough economic times. Guthrie’s Foods, up against the big-box retailers, is every local grocery in America. And Andi finishes the story as she starts it – a career-oriented young woman determined to use her talents. I had to like her, and Pete too, even as I doubted their romance.
The Bikini Car Wash has a lot to offer for a summer read. It’s definitely worth a look.