Wry, rueful tales of a Southern debutante’s mostly disappointing love life.
The unifying motif of Crouch’s debut is the Charleston Cotillion Training School, where South Carolina girls and boys of a certain class are taught ballroom dance in preparation for the girls’ coming out parties. Prominent among the debutantes are the Camellias, a sorority of women whose mission is to “prepare their daughters for marriage to a decent man.” For Sarah Walters and her friends Bitsy, Charlotte and Annie, Camellia membership will mark their most permanent attachment; it seems that for latter-day debutantes there’s a shortage of decent men. The novel is comprised of linked short stories, some veering off into the equally problematic amours of peripheral characters including Sarah’s brilliant older sister Eloise and their mother. After college, Sarah moves to New York City seeking a writer’s life. While working lowly editorial positions, she rooms with Charlotte, a fledgling fashion designer who’s in and out of rehab. Sarah’s man-that-got-away is blue-blooded Max, who “made money with money.” His casual cruelty is not tempered by any redeeming appeal, and Sarah’s intractable obsession with him beggars belief. She attempts, vainly, to settle for guys from home, or guys she thought of as just friends but was holding in reserve as fallback lovers. Annie, who never leaves Charleston, survives a relationship with a feckless artist to find love and financial stability. Bitsy marries money, which is scant consolation for her husband’s callousness—his infidelities persist as she dies of cancer. Charlotte chooses first drugs, then entrepreneurial success, over relationships. Sarah, finding at 31 that she’s “missed [her] window” of opportunity with the fallback guys, has a child by an extremely casual acquaintance. By age 35 she’s accepted the fact that neither she nor the men in her life will ever measure up to debutante standards.
Gentle humor and sharp observation couched in straightforward prose with none of the preening preciosity so often seen in Southern fiction.