Thursday, November 09, 2006

Full of Grace and Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

I just finished reading Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, by Lorna Landvik, and Full of Grace, by Dorothea Benton Frank, and it struck me how similar these two authors are. Both write novels about Baby Boomer-aged women who generally had one or two abusive parents, and who break away from their bad circumstances, bad husbands or bad families, and grow immesurably in a better environment, usually with the aid of good female friends, a great kid or a great guy. So far, I've read Landviks "Patty Janes House of Curl" and "Tall Pine Polka" in addition to Angry Housewives, and I am currently reading one of her recent efforts, "Oh My Stars," which has started out with the typical abused teenager striking out on her own to get away from a horrible home environment and an evil drunken father. Most of Landviks books take place in the northern Midwest, in Minnesota or Wisconsin, though she often introduces a character who is a native of the South. Landviks ability to create quirky characters is wonderful, though she tends to stereotype them a bit. (ie the "skinny rabble-rouser," and the "voluptuous sex pot"). But, with shows like "Desperate Housewives" soaring in popularity, I don't think that will keep Landvik from gathering more devotees to her soap-opera-esque works. I find them comforting to read, and there are times when, as a reader, I don't want to read something deep and challenging, just something character-driven and with a plot chunky enough to keep me going. The same can be said for Ms Benton Franks works, in that they are comforting, interesting and fun. Benton Franks characters are mainly from the South, however, with the occaisional foray into the murky waters of the East Coast. Franks works are similar to Landviks in that the main character always starts the book in a less-than-healthy situation and proceeds to move to North or South Carolina and get a better life, and usually a better man. Franks women are fiesty but feminine in the way that only a real Southern belle can be. Full of Grace was no exception in that the main character was fiesty and funny, but this time, the protagonist Grace was a New Jersey Italian American princess, complete with a father named Big Al who acted like everyones stereotype of a "goodfella" mobster, and a wimpy, gutless mother named Connie who was everyones servant and general whipping boy. The fact that the protagonist is supposed to be an inspirational and beloved character in Franks books made it all the harder for me to overlook the problems I had with Grace as the main character. She was spoiled, selfish, rude, whiny and became a puddle looking for a shoulder to cry on every time something bad happened to her. She just couldn't deal, which seemed uncharacteristic of a supposedly tough Joisey princess who runs expensive tours all over the world. Not until we are 2/3 of the way through the book does she finally attempt to help her poor overworked mother and rescue her from slavery. She doesn't even try to tell her father to quit being an abusive jerk. Apparently, because her mother had an affair early in their marriage, that's supposed to mean that she has to spend the rest of her life being treated like a dog by her husband and mother in law. Again, we are supposed to be somehow charmed by this nasty, rude and cruel mother in law, Graces grandmother, when in reality, anyone with an ounce of compassion for Connie would want to see "Nonna" chucked out an airlock or tossed from a 5th story window. Mean people suck, but not to Frank. She lauds them in this particular book. I did like the story line, and the plot was nicely paced. I found the ending to be a bit too much "Touched By An Angel," and too easy, but no one could accuse Frank of leaving her readers hanging or outraging them with a crappy ending. The same could be said of Landvik. She always leaves her readers satisfied that all is well with her characters. Oddly enough, Landviks characters in "Angry Housewives" live on Freesia Court, which sounds an awful lot like the "Desperate Housewives" Wisteria Lane. Perhaps the shows writers are fans of Landviks works. At any rate, I will continue to enjoy the works of both authors, and will also try to continue to develop friendships and a life that is as fulfilled and rich as these characters' always end up being.

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