DADDY'S GIRL by Beverly Lowry


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Kaleidoscoped scenes from the life of the Stovalls of Texas and Arkansas--most particularly Sue Shannon Stovall Muffaletta, a mother of three who writes C&W hits (as ""M.S. Sue""), sings in the redneck Houston suburbs far enough away so as not to embarrass her kids (as ""June Day""), and stays real close to her Daddy. In fact, though fat frozen-yogurt salesman Daddy--a long-ago footballer better known as ""Big""--has his own place over at the ""Signs of the Zodiac"" apartment city, he mostly stays with Sue in Houston's classy Post Oak Place neighborhood: he makes the kids breakfast, tells stories, talks his funny backwards talk, stages farting contests (and wins), drinks sherry. Meanwhile, Sue's mother Linda--who nearly died (and got re-born) in the same car crash that killed Sue's husband--lives outside of town with a pretty-boy Jewish photographer half her age, writing stories for Erotica Monthly: ""she now lives inside her skin, one with it. . . ."" And Sue herself, though she doesn't quite live inside her skin, has been through ""The Married Man Waltz"" with lean Sam Moore, owner of an icehouse named Zoe's (for his wife). So it goes, as the focus dances around, sometimes inside Sue's head, sometimes not, with snatches of her songs, snippets about her past, her idols (from Mario Lanza to Tina Turner), Little League crises, and daughter Caroline's long-overdue first period. But then the novel gathers some comic focus--when news comes that Big's sister Louise has died (""Couldn't cook, looked like Mrs. Roosevelt. What a combination""). The entire tetchy clan gathers at the old family manse in Pine Bluff, Ark.--which the late Louise had nearly finished in completely ""renovating,"" rendering it unfurnished and unrecognizable (a nifty, creepy conceit); there's tension over Who Gets the House?; there's the unexpected arrival of Sue's envious brother Steve and his est-ed wife Brook (who has erotic dreams about Mick Jagger); and there's black comedy throughout the funeral, building to the moment when sherry-heavy Big blissfully urinates into the waiting grave. This funny-grim sequence, however, leads into the book's just-grim last section: Big goes around the bend, right into a straitjacket, eaten up with anger over Linda's lewd idyll (which will end, as it happens, partly thanks to slimy Brook) and perhaps the victim of hospital malpractice. Again, as in Emma Blue and Come Back, Lolly Ray, Lowry is more successful at snatching up vivid moments than at crafting a consistently involving novel. And the jukebox-y narrative technique here occasionally becomes too self-conscious. But from Cheerios stuck to the table to muzak at the funeral parlor, the details are rough and true--and whenever the over-busy jangling settles down, Lowry proves herself a hard, smart observer in the best Southern comic tradition.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking