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Haynes (Live at Five, 1996, etc.) unleashes his satiric verve on preteen beauty pageants and midlife crises in this tale of an adwoman who returns to the nest. Thirtysomething Deneen Wilkerson is a ""Rubenesque"" resident of Minneapolis working on a non-euphemistic ad campaign for douche spray when she goes on an ill-fated romantic vacation. As she and her boyfriend, Calvin, speed down I-94 toward a rural inn, the unhappy Calvin chooses the occasion to tell her he's gay. Deneen is so unsettled by the breakup of her only serious post-college relationship that she decides to go home to St. Louis and get some long-overdue nurturing from Mom, now widowed for a second time. But Deneen hasn't counted on her bratty 12-year-old half-sister Ciara, who's busy planning a campaign to carry her all the way to the top of the ""All American Dream Dolls"" pageant under the guidance of her eccentric, driven manager Hawkins DeAngeles. Deneen's first reaction to the vain and unsympathetic Ciara is to spend a week in hibernation with Wheat Thins, pound cake, and talk shows, which teach her that Ciara displays all of the ""ten warning signs of toxic people."" Subsequently, Deneen's relationship with Ciara descends through several levels of sisterly manipulation and attempted sabotage while Ciara, meantime, is beset by cutthroat competition, talentless Whitney Houston imitators, and the impending end of preteen adorableness. But though the sisters never quite learn to hit it off, Deneen's presence proves beneficial for everyone as she strikes up a surprisingly healthy relationship with a would-be pageant impresario named Mark and persuades her mother to take more responsibility for Ciara's future. Haynes's strokes are broad, but he delivers a frequently hilarious novel, with consistently on-target punch lines and an eye for real people.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0156005727
Page count: 282pp
Publisher: Milkweed