Sunday, 30 September 2018

Anyone for Seconds? by Laurie Graham.

            Laurie Graham writes heart-warmers.  (See review below)  And that’s fine with me, especially when they are as down-to-earth and entertaining as her latest title – which is a sequel to ‘Perfect Meringues’, according to the jacket notes, a book that our library has missed out on, even though it has a number of her other stories, but:  NEVER MIND!
            ‘Anyone for Seconds’ with its redoubtable protagonist Lizzie Partridge is a Blues-banisher extraordinaire, a laugh-out-loud chronicle of six months in Lizzie’s life as she deals with a front door swollen with damp, mice (though this turned out to be a dust-bunny because she hates housework), the selfishness and uncaringness (is there such a word?) of her close family and friends, and the loss of her job as a TV chef on daytime telly – well, it wasn’t her fault;  those two cows roped in to sample her wonderful desserts wouldn’t eat a thing;  in fact one of them said that sugar was bad for everybody  - she was obviously an anorexic!  Well, it wasn’t Lizzie’s fault if diplomatic relations failed and she ended up trying to shove one of the desserts down the anorexic’s throat, nor was she expecting the anorexic to rally her skeletal strength and knock out Lizzie’s two front teeth. 
            No:  it wasn’t a good day.  Lizzie avoided being charged, but now she’s out of a job.  Her partner Tom has left her too, that kind, wonderful man whom everyone in the family liked – and when told that he’d gone, they’d said ‘but he was so nice!’  Even Lizzie’s dour 89 year old mother said she Could Have Done Worse, and Lizzie’s high-flying defence lawyer daughter thought Lizzie was mad to let him go.  Well, no-one knew The Dark Side of Tom:  the man who washed everything BEFORE loading the dishwasher;  the man who tried to whisk your plate away before you’d finished everything on it – yes, he was definitely OCD and it was a relief to leave a magazine or anything else on the floor if she wanted to without having it consigned to ‘a proper place’ complete with eye-rolling.  But she still misses him.
            Well, never mind.  She’ll just disappear for a week and see how long it takes for all the Near and Dear to miss her;  it will do them good to have some worrisome moments trying to track her down – Heavens, they might even ring the police!  Well, serve them right for treating her so casually, taking her for granted:  there’s nothing like a bit of tough love to wake everyone’s ideas up.
            Needless to say, Lizzie’s mystery disappearance doesn’t produce the reaction she desired;  her Near and Dear have other, more pressing matters on their minds and life for a slightly overweight (well, comfort food should do just that, shouldn’t it?) 64 year old ex-TV chef becomes more complicated before it gets better.
            As always, Ms Graham’s  portrayal of family dynamics is right on the money;  we read about ourselves in all of her books, but seldom are our stories told with such humour and flair.  At the risk of sounding oxymoronic (oh come on, who cares!) this book is serious good fun.  SIX STARS.

Early Birds, by Laurie Graham.

               Laurie Graham is famous for writing immensely readable ‘social comedies’ as the book blurb says, and her latest novel is no exception.  It’s always a pleasure to settle down to enjoy each of her stories as they appear;  there are always great, true-blue characters that we can all recognise and identify effortlessly with what happens to them:  ill-health, tragedy, ageing and the ailments pertaining to;  precious, lifelong friendships sustained until the last gasp, and most importantly, lots of laughs. 
            Early Birds is the sequel to ‘The Future Homemakers of America’,  Ms Graham’s 2001 story of the young wives of American Airmen stationed in Norfolk, England in the 1950’s.  They weathered many an emotional and physical storm together, especially Lois, married to Herb, the best, most faithful husband anyone could wish for, but choosing instead to take an English lover who was anything but stable – the resulting child from that unhappy liaison being raised by Herb as his own. 
Now it is 2000 and the young women have become elderly;  Peggy Dewey, who narrates their latest adventures, has had a chequered career of her own:  her marriage to Airman Vern Dewey collapsed when he retired from the Air Force;  she bowed out because she objected to having the living room furniture thrown across the room – at her.  Now she and her inadvertent companion Grice, a much younger Gay man, have been asked to assist in the care of Vern, whose second wife has died:  Peggy’s daughter Crystal has been trying – and failing – to look after Vern, who now has Alzheimer’s.  Would they PLEASE get their selfish asses out of Texas and come to Maine to give her some help?  PLEASE??
So they do.  For their living circumstances in Texas are anything but ideal.  They are between the classic rock and the hard place – surely,  looking after Vern so that Crystal can work at being a taxidermist (!) and work at her shaky marriage to vegetarian Marc can’t be that difficult.  Can it?
Ms Graham writes beautifully of family relationships, fractured and otherwise:  Lois and Herb come to visit to give some respite care for those at the coalface of Vern, only for Lois to extend the visit by breaking her hip in a fall – which is common in ladies of a certain age, but she is anything but common, and certainly not a docile patient.  Then the huge, nation-wide tragedy occurs:  the attack and collapse of the Twin Towers, with its accompanying terrible loss of life shocks the world and conspiracy theories abound, even in Maine:  Vern’s stepson Eugene has constructed a bunker and fills it with canned food – all very well and good until the shelves collapse while he is underneath.  Things are only middling!  (As my dear old Granny used to say.)
Peggy begins a very cautious and tentative relationship with one of their remote ‘next-door’ neighbours;  it literally takes years to progress to the point where Grice says ‘Remember.  If you marry him you must promise to adopt me.’  Well, he is such a fabulous character that I would adopt him myself if I could!  Funny, touching and tender, this lovely story’s feel-good factor is guaranteed.  FIVE STARS

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