A romanticized, madcap exploration of familial love and loss.
Tottering between gutting salmon on the Alaskan slime-line and substitute teaching in San Francisco, abruptly widowed and tetherless Bean searches for self-reliance during her 26th year, moving from memories of charismatic husband Mick, the man who would “rescue her,” to the realities of lackluster “life-proof” Bob. Along the way, Bean learns a few tricks from wisecracking sex-pot Lois, plucky gay show-tune loving Jimmy, her own neglected childhood, addict brother Chip, and mute immigrant Martin, until ultimately finding herself content and consoled in the unlikeliest of arms: those of her cranky, kleptomaniac mother-in-law Hanna. Initial momentum moves through the mystery of Mick’s sudden disappearance atop Mt. McKinley and on to the center of the tale, where newcomer Marquis, a New York Times reporter, looks into the questions of what family means and how life’s tragedies define people. Concluding against the backdrop of protracted terminal illness, Marquis’s moral unfurls through antic adventures. When she’d rather watch Friends and eat Ben & Jerry’s, chubby Bean instead feigns retardation in order to bail Hanna out of shoplifting charges, or misses her goodbyes due to an impromptu sex romp at the YMCA. Yet after intervention in the form of a kidnapping illuminates her maternal side, it seems that maybe a husband won’t fix her after all. What Bean really needs is some mothering, and Hanna delivers. Tender sentimentality between the two damaged, resilient women nicely belies the upbeat melodrama’s likable if stereotypical characters and well-paced if cursory plot developments. A bird motif performs heavy foreshadowing, as Audubonesque epigraphs limn each chapter, while Debbie the Duck nursery rhymes, with Hanna standing in as Old Shirley the Titmouse, frequently elucidate Bean’s emotional arc.
A wacky Hollywood version of widowhood, rife with Alaskan vixens, antic dating, hardscrabble love, AIDS, make-shift family, second chances, and jail time.