REVIEW: Hot Dish by Connie Brockway
Dear Ms. Brockway:
I have loved you in the past and while I have dreaded favorite historical authors move to contemporary, I figured if anyone could do it, it would be you. After all, people complain that your historical voice was too modern. A contemporary would fit you like a glove. Unfortunately, I think your move to women’s fiction is just not one I want to make with you. I won’t belabor the plot points as Jayne summarized it so well in her review.
Yes, this story has a romance but it is not a central focus of the book. The story focuses, in part, on Jenny Lind’s ability to come to grips with her past; and, in part, on the hunt for a butterhead sculpture. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t agreed with Jayne to write this duel review thing, I would have tossed the book aside after the fourth chapter or so and moved on. But here I am writing a review about a book I didn’t like by an author I used to love. It’s a sorry state of things.
You did a thoroughly good job of making me dislike the heroine but not a very good job at redeeming her. Jenny Lind went from selfish, whiny, rude and immature to someone who was still selfish, whiny and rude and only slightly less immature. Her all-about-me attitude wore thin over time.
You can write, of course. You still had moments of charm, wit and warmth (mostly when Steve was interacting with Jenn’s parents), but most of the time it was tiresome to listen to Jenny talk about her life. What she missed out on. Why she despised the town of Fawn Creek. How sorry she felt for her parents. How condescending she was. She pitied everyone who was forced to remain in Fawn Creek and made no bones about telling them how much she pitied them. Jenny actually makes people around her feel bad. Her mother. Her father. Her supposed best friend. I think if this was a Young Adult book, I could have been more accepting of Jenn’s persistent negativity but to have these feelings 20 years later after having become a success, seemed unreasonable and immature.
Steve, I suppose, is to provide the contrast. He likes the small town. He likes her parents. But Steve is a schlupp who feeds off the adoration of people. He would be nothing if he was not a celebrity and virtually admits this. In the small town, he would be the brightest light.
The characterizations of most characters are demeaning and unkind. Jayne likens this to Fargo and a black comedy. In Fargo, however, while they were making fun of accents, the snow and the locals, Francis McDormand was no one’s fool. (and, for the record, I love Fargo and so does every Minne-SO-tan and North Dakotan I know. In Hot Dish, no small town denizen is made to look competent. Maybe Jayne is right that my Midwestern roots make me unable to find humor in this. Or maybe this type of book I just would never “get”. I’ve been in the minority before.
A bang shook the freezer as a fat little cheek smashed into the Plexiglas window like a bug hurtling into the windshield of a VW. The cheek stuck, glued there by equal parts sweat, syrup, and sunscreen. Above it, a kid’s single visible eye rotated in its socket like a gecko’s, coming to rest on the hundred-pound, head-shaped block of butter inside.
Steve looked up into the faces of three nervous, acne-riddled pubescent males whose names he would never know, …
Steve looked up into the scowling face of a neckless, balding man broiling in a navy blue polyester sports jacket two sizes too small.
“Now that’s great if the Pillsbury Doughboy ever wants to get cozy,” she continued, “and since I am doomed—and I do not think that I overstate my case here, Steve. I mean doomed—to live in Fawn Creek for another three hundred and sixty-five days, he’s probably as close as I’ll get to a guy without back hair. You know what I mean?”
She leaned forward. “Lumberjacks. Or Sons of Lumberjacks.”
Dwight had tapped into a huge reservoir of baby boomers wanting to rekindle their Leave It to Beaver days, Gen Xers looking for a little moral substance to pad their financial portfolios, and young Americans worried about being blown up.
…stick-straight black hair chopped off at her jaw and her thin, flat figure, Nat looked uncannily like an Edward Gorey character. One of the scary children.
Bob Reynolds had pattered over to where she sat and was regarding her eagerly. If he had a tail, he’d have been wagging it. She still wasn’t sure she’d pet him, though. She suspected he had big teeth.
I wasn’t looking for Jenn Lind to do a 180 degree change, fall in love with her small town and want to remain there forever. I wanted an acknowledgment by her that her characterizations of the town and its people (which she viewed as universally unattractive and fat) were decent, worthwhile individuals. I did want some greater redemptive moment. What I think is most ironic is that this book falls squarely in the genre of chick/women’s lit. Self absorbed heroine with job problems finds herself and a man while looking good (minus the shopping and brand names). Yes, that very same genre that you despise; that you think is comprised mainly of carnival patter. I think this book is like that. Carnival patter. Whatever that is. C