Genre: Chick Lit
Review in a word: Disappointing
Opening line: “My name is Dora Witherspoon but most folks know me as the Turtle Lady.”
Narrated by Dora, this is the story of Jackie, a young Bostonian who moves with her family to Naples, Florida in the early 60s. She struggles to fit in in the small Southern town, so with other misfits of Naples—like Dora, Robbie-Lee (the town’s only open homosexual), Priscilla (a young black maid), Plain Jane (a dowdy woman who secretly writes romance novels), and Mrs. Bailey White (an ex-con accused of murdering her husband)—she forms the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. They begin by reading books together, but soon they’re living life together. And Jackie is still not satisfied. Secretly, she takes a job hosting the midnight radio show, donning the mysterious persona “Miss Dreamsville.” Pretty soon, both Jackie and Miss Dreamsville have their little town in an uproar.
I think this story has a lot of potential, and there are definitely good moments. Aside from the fact that its title clearly plays off the success of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this story could stand on its own as a touching tale of friends who find community and break a few racial and class boundaries in the process. There is a scene when the group encounters the KKK, but after escaping, it’s barely mentioned again. Jackie is enthralled with Betty Friedan and the feminist movement, and she makes a few brave moves to challenge women’s “roles” in the town. But nothing actually changes. As invested as these ladies are in Naples, there’s no evidence that their group has any positive effect, except on themselves. It really seems like much ado about nothing. A lot of good, challenging adventures that ultimately go nowhere.
Not to mention, there’s very little discussion about how wonderful books are. And as a book lover, and with a title like that, I kind of expected more discussion of the power of books. But books really play a very minor role in the novel.
You might like instead:
The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon