Three women embark on a journey of self-discovery, facilitated by a giant feline, in Ephron’s whimsical but winsome third novel.
Twenty-somethings Tracee and Lana, best friends since childhood, have left Baltimore on the run from an unnamed crisis, but Tracee’s escape attire—a designer wedding dress—provides a clue to the zaniness to follow. Lana, a recovering alcoholic who dropped out of college, is fixing a flat when drab, middle-aged Rita, who’s been walking the highway for several hours, offers a hand. Rita accepts a ride in Lana’s Mustang, destination unknown. Outside the rural village of Fairville, N.C., Tracee falls asleep at the wheel and totals the car. Seeking shelter, the women happen upon a ramshackle roadhouse called The Lion. Breaking in, they are shocked to discover an actual lion caged in a corner. The Lion’s slovenly owner, Clayton, hires all three women as waitresses, although he at first consigns Rita to menial chores for insufficient hotness. Tim, a gangly but kind young man who works at the local dollar store as well as for Clayton, finds lodging for the women, who are stuck in Fairville until they can earn enough to fix the Mustang. Since the furniture industry outsourced all the jobs, everyone in Fairville is scrabbling for a living, and business is slow at the Lion. This changes when Rita and the lion, whose name is Marcel, form a special bond. Soon, she’s taking Marcel for early-morning walks and performing lion-taming stunts in the bar at night. The characters undergo transformations as The Lion draws crowds. Clayton spruces up and tries to court Rita, who’s newly confident and adventurous after decades in the stifling marriage she fled. Lana, whose confession in a town AA meeting is used against her by the local police, begins to rebuild the bridges she’s burned, and Tracee, a kleptomaniac, finds a refuge from past bad boyfriend woes.
Although the life-affirming message is hardly subtle, Ephron delivers it with finesse.