HarperTorch, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-103087-2
Contemporary Fiction, 2002 (Reissue)
Previously published in trade-sized paperback and hardcover as Styles by Maggie Sweet, this much-hyped “Southern woman rediscovers herself and renounces stupid husband and dumb kids” yarn starts out fun. I swear, Judith Minthorn Stacy could be writing my own feelings and thoughts sometimes when the hubby and kids are being, er, unreasonable, but Ms Stacy plays the exploitative victim angle for too long. What starts out fun soon becomes a race to see who will reach the finishing line first: this story or my blood pressure.
Maggie Sweet finally realizes, after thirty-eight years of catering to her parents and later her husband and two daughters, all who take her for granted, that maybe she isn’t happy after all. The usual predictable Southern ya-ya’s ensue, where our hairdresser, cook doormat heroine embarks on some soul-searching with her Shania Twain-ish best friend. An old flame from high school reappears in her life to complicate matters.
The first half of this book is amazing. Maggie really comes to life as a woman who has repressed her dreams and wishes so much that you know she just have to explode one day. There are some really quaint touches to the prose that make Maggie so endearing. This one, when she realizes – with shock – that a fellow good neighbor who always put the husband and kids over herself has finally snapped and walked out on her family, Maggie soon finds herself dreaming that the neighbor adds too much stuff into sourdough before leaving. The sourdough soon grows and grows and grows until it swallows up the whole house and everyone asleep inside. I find it hilarious, and also rather bittersweet at the same time. Maggie is suffocating, and she is only slowly realizing it, poor thing.
But as the story progresses, Maggie takes one step forward only to be beaten down by her family ten steps backwards. After a while I decide that there’s no one more clueless – and more stupid – than Maggie, who can actually tolerate being used and manipulated by her family (even by her grandmother) for their own convenience. I can’t believe any sane woman will let herself be used and abused like this – I’m not counting those people that appear on Jerry Springer – and after a while I just wish someone will just put Maggie down and end her and my misery. She’s so stupid and weak, I’m so in pain.
The ending has little pay-off, and the words “The story continues…” in the next book mock me worse than the green grapes on the high branch mock the fox. I bloody spent two hours praying that my blood pressure don’t hit the roof for… this? I have to pay hardcover price to find out whether Maggie grows a spine or whether a car has run down Maggie in a pity hit-and-run-cum-euthanasia?
I close this book feeling so sorry for weak, pathetic, and dumb brown cow Maggie, and I hope if she’s based on anyone in real life, that anyone’s friend will clobber some sense into her, unlike Maggie’s best friend who flees for a country and western high life. Then again, Maggie’s the stupid one, not the best friend, so I can’t say I blame the best friend for fleeing the sinking ship.
I like my stories with melodramatic epiphany, but Maggie Sweet is all about a brown cow who can’t find a clue even if she is given a radar, a tracking device, and a glow-in-the-dark talking road map. Gorging on junk food is a much better way to get hypertension, if you ask me. Let me ditch this book and get me some Twinkies.