REVIEW: There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell by Laurie Notaro
Dear Ms. Notaro,
I admit it was the great title and the book cover which sold me on trying this book. And then the subtitle, “a novel of sewer pipes, pageant queens, and big trouble” didn’t dim my interest either. It’s neither a romance novel nor women’s fiction nor Chick Lit but kind of a bizarre combination of all three and, at times, hysterically funny.
When her husband is offered a post at a small university, Maye is only too happy to pack up and leave the relentless Phoenix heat for the lush green quietude of Spaulding, Washington. While she loves the odd little town, there is one thing she didn't anticipate: just how heartbreaking it would be leaving her friends behind. And when you're a childless thirtysomething freelance writer who works at home, making new friends can be quite a challenge.
After a series of false starts nearly gets her exiled from town, Maye decides that her last chance to connect with her new neighbors is to enter the annual Sewer Pipe Queen Pageant, a kooky but dead-serious local tradition open to contestants of all ages and genders. Aided by a deranged former pageant queen with one eyebrow, Maye doesn't just make a splash, she uncovers a sinister mystery that has haunted the town for decades.
The book starts off strong with chapters that had me laughing out loud. I like that Maye isn’t svelte, skinny, clueless young thing but an adult woman who’s lived a little, has a devoted husband and a cool dog. I hope you just exaggerated about the small, Northwest town. Can any place really be that strict about styrofoam? And where’s the Starbucks? I thought every Washington town had to have at least two. I did find it hard to believe that Rowena could have been so hated in such a small town for so long. Or was her anger at and jealousy of Ruby coming out at long last? But the way you have her act, I can’t believe that she hadn’t been pulling the same shit for years. I guess being the wife of the richest man in town let her get away with it? And how did she change so completely from being Ruby’s best friend for so many years? Kind of Jeckle and Hyde-esque or had she buried her true feelings for all those years?
I know the book revolves around Maye finding her place in Spaulding and that since she and Charlie are already married couple with no obvious problems their relationship isn’t front and center in the book but I would have enjoyed seeing a little more depth to him. Charlie is kind of one note person. Bad with plumbing and supportive of Maye (nice touch) but not much else is there. And some of the other characters in the town seemed to be there more for comic relief rather than advancing the story much.
Shallow person that I am, I loved the first part of story more but when Maye starts training with Ruby (I wouldn’t want to have to clean out Ruby’s living room. Or her kitchen) and learning about Ruby’s past, it takes a more serious turn. The humor felt more forced and, to be honest, Ruby really is one odd bird. The story is topped off by the showdown at the Sewer Pipe Queen pageant. I did laugh at the song which Maye and her dog get stuck performing to and actually remember it well from the big hair and big shoulder pads styles of my college days in the 80s. “We are strong! No one can tell us we’re wrong!” Though IIRC my sorority sisters’ response when Pat and the girls start shimmying their boobs at the pimp was more laughter than feminine solidarity. The Pageant’s various other contestants certainly were a mixed bag but that’s one contest I’d be willing to pay to see. I did like that Maye comes to appreciate Ruby as she is and that her name is cleared but I’d have liked Ruby getting a chance to appreciate it too. B- grade for There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell.