Tuesday, April 19, 2005

(Un)Cover the Butter

A few days ago I finished my very first advanced reading copy since becoming a litblogger: Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak. I have been mulling it over; after all, it's not every day that I get review copies (though I'm perfectly happy to get them -- so please, keep them coming!). Overall I liked Cover the Butter; it's a nice mix of chick lit and women's fiction (with a dash of Peggy Sue Got Married and Under the Tuscan Sun thrown in).

Publisher's description (with my comments in brackets and italics):

In this mesmerizing tale [I really liked it, but mesmerizing is not exactly the adjective I would have used; engaging, perhaps, or charming... maybe even enchanting...], Kate Cadogan is a middle-aged housewife coming to a crossroads in her life. She doesn't realize it until one Sunday morning when she discovers the callous destruction [once again I have trouble with the adjective] visited upon her home [really, it was just the unpleasant leftover mess left by her teenage son's overly rowdy friends], a home she lovingly restored [she actually decorated it and carefully made it into a nest "twig by twig" for her son, who seems curiously unaffected by the post-party state of said nest]. It seems her teenage son threw a party the night before and her husband, Rodney, is too busy with his latest sports program to care. Kate opens a bottle of wine, vows never to sleep with Rodney again [it turns out to be a decision only marginally influenced by his sports obsession and completely related to his behavior during their last sexual encounter], and wonders how she reached this point; how she became just another "sports widow" to an ineffectual, uncaring husband [he's much worse than merely ineffectual]. A few glasses later, Kate finds herself falling down a "tunnel", only to land in 1965 -- in the moment she got her first bra [landing implies awareness of herself as an adult travelling back in time -- there is no such awareness there]. What follows is an exhilarating series of adventures with two spirited and devoted friends, one crazy mother too repressed to leave the butter uncovered [yes, the point of the title does become clear very early on, thankfully], a few wayward men, and one hell of a foundation garment. Through it all Kate rediscovers the woman she once was. Delightfully imaginative, Cover the Butter is an over-forty coming-of-age novel that proves it's never too late to move to Provence and start over.
Things I liked about Cover the Butter:
* The episodic nature of the narrative -- it skips time, clusters it.
* The distinctive voice of Kate the protagonist and first-person narrator, as older teen, young woman, middle-aged woman.
* The tone of the narrative -- it's usually light and filled with humor. Just a little taste:

The double-decker pulls up with a whoosh of brakes. We toss coins into the mouth of the Please Proffer the Exact Fare box, and squash together one seat because we have so much to say, so much to look forward to, and too much to laugh about.
This, I call freedom.
My parents: out of sight.
How I wish I could say: out of mind. (p73)
* How Kate's complicated relationship to her parents was treated -- no easy answers there. Her mom, Biddy, is a self-involved, controlling woman who even monitors her teenage daughter's periods: "Biddy knows the very timetable of my body. She's familiar with every root of hair on my head, every toenail, every eyelash, every mole, and freckle. The invasion is both comfortable and disconcerting at the same time" (p167). Her dad is both emotionally overinvolved with his daughter and chronically unwilling (or unable) to defy his wife (even for his beloved daughter).

What I had problems with:
* The fact that the Alice in Wonderland thing is only for the prologue. Nowhere in the rest of the narrative is there even a hint of awareness of the time travel (not even when the events of the prologue are (re)lived). That just makes it gimmicky, something that feels tacked on as merely a hook or tease but isn't really integral to the story.
* The protagonist as a 14-year-old girl -- I'm still not sure if my discomfort with these chapters reflects a lack in Kabak's writing or merely that it took me a while to hit my stride as her reader, but I found the chapters involving 14-year-old Kate shallow and uninspiring. I had to force myself to read them, but once the narrative shifted and 17-year-old Kate took over, I found both the writing and the story much more compelling -- in fact, I was hooked!

If you want a light, entertaining novel with an engaging protagonist who has her share of misadventures and emerges triumphant, happy, and fulfilled, do give Cover the Butter a try. You won't be disappointed!

And I'm certainly looking forward to Carrie Kabak's next novel!

More information on Cover the Butter:
* It will be published on June 17 by Dutton in hardcover.
* It has been chosen as a Book Sense selection for June, which qualifies it for consideration for the Quills Awards.

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