REVIEW: Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter by Lisa Patton
Dear Ms. Patton,
I used to live in Memphis. In Germantown to be precise. My overwhelming memories are The Pink Palace Museum, my father going across the river to buy Coors beer in Arkansas, Elvis, Graceland and listening to the streets get sprayed during the summer nights to try and keep the mosquito population below 8 million. So when DA was offered the chance to read your upcoming second novel about Memphis belle Leelee Satterfield, I jumped at it and shamelessly requested the chance to read the first novel as well. I had a blast and can’t wait for round two.
Leelee Williams Satterfield is a Memphis girl, born and bred. She and her lifelong friends Virginia, Mary Jule and Alice have done almost everything together, including 12 years at an exclusive girls school, college, debuts, weddings, births and country clubbing. Leelee makes no bones about being a daddy’s girl or that she went after her high school crush Baxter Satterfield until she got him. Now married with two adorable daughters, everything is going Leelee’s way.
That is until Baxter broadsides her one evening with the news that he’s bored with his job, wants a change and is determined that change will be selling their home, buying an old inn in Vermont and relocating to a place that Leelee’s not sure is the left or right state next to New York. Horrified, she informs her friends who rally and soothe her. But Baxter is determined and before she knows it, Leelee finds herself out in the boondocks, living cramped, being bullied by the old owners who have stayed on for a year long transition and desperate to go home.
Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, Baxter disappears on their wedding anniversary leaving no note. It’s only then that she learns he’s been seeing the owner of a local ski resort and has decided to jump ship. Now she’s stuck in a place she doesn’t understand doing a job she doesn’t like with a staff she’s not sure she can count on. Will that be curtains for this Southern belle or a chance to discover who she really is?
Leelee is the proverbial Southern belle. While you might have just slightly exaggerated her tendencies and traits it’s not by much. I know Leelees. Her complete identification of Memphis as her home is also something that rings true. Though I haven’t lived there for decades, when people ask me where I’m from I always answer, “Well, I was born in Atlanta…” Leelee begins the book as such a polite bit of dandelion fluff that I wanted to shake her and tell her to channel Julia Sugarbaker. The German transplanted former inn owner treads all over her, Baxter ignores her, all her efforts to spiff up the inn are rejected and she quickly discovers all the things that no one who wants to sell you an inn tells you about Vermont. This first bit is Leelee the Downtrodden.
She’s also a total fish out of water. Nothing has ever prepared her for the four seasons of Vermont – short summer, brilliant leafed Autumn, endless snowy winter and Mud. Amazed she finds herself shoveling snow in what should be Spring, balancing on boards to keep out of the mud, slapping vampire blackflies that draw blood and relishing the short but intense summer before pulling out the toe warmers that keep her feet from freezing solid as the snow starts again. She also finds herself bonding with the native Vermonters as they pass on their wisdom and knowledge about, yes she admits, this state which has its beauties and good points.
Her frequent phone calls to her friends bear fruit when the three descend on the inn determined to help her shape it up and get rid of the houseitosis, awful wallpaper, head cheese menu and finally the woman who Leelee discovers set her husband up for his marital flight. I loved watching the four of them transform the inn into a showplace instead of something stuck 30 years in the tacky past. Leelee begins to take pride in a job well done and relishes the stellar reviews she and her hard working staff garner in local and regional media. I saw this as Leelee getting back on her feet.
Her friends come up with the perfect way to publicly get back at Baxter for what he did and begin to encourage her to pay more interest in the new chef she’s hired. Peter Owen is a peach even if he is from Jersey. Hot, good with her daughters, a great chef and endlessly supportive of Leelee I wondered when she would finally Get a Clue about him. It did arrive but the wait seemed endless and only served to set up book two due in September. Honestly, I wanted some action between them NOW since they were in an inn with eight bedrooms. But it has whetted my appetite for “Yankee Doodle Dixie.”
I would say the book is Leelee and her journey from Daddy’s pampered girl and “lady who does lunch” wife to a woman with backbone and gumption. Baxter is just a tool – literally and figuratively. This is Leelee all the way as she goes from someone who pines for the Southland to a person who has to seriously think whether she wants to leave her new life. Instead of Chick Lit, I’d venture to say it’s Hen Lit as Leelee is older and grows wiser in knowledge of herself, of others and of a state she never thought would grow on her. By the end, it’s Leelee standing tall. B