With a mixture of sticky sentiment and raunchy farce, but without the full-blooded, flinty compassion of the best regional writers (Lee Smith, Larry McMurtry, et al.), Klavans presents unlovely closeups of the lives of three beauticians in a Virginia navy town. Claudine, 29, is the mother of pretty Michelle and deformed/retarded Johnnie; two men (including the children's father) have dumped her; so now she's living with a 19-year-old hunk named A. Jacks, who's more than a little immature and maybe a little homosexual; and, while Claud's devotion to Johnnie is heroic, her hopes for financial security rest on his speedy demise. (""He's a freak, that s all. He's reallllll fucked up. . . I just gotta wait until he dies to write the book."") Meanwhile, Claud's chum/rival Dolores--they bicker over management decisions at the chain-owned parlor--isn't much happier at age 23: she's the unwed mother of little Rosemary; she has obsessive, painful/romanticized memories (belabored flashbacks) of her teenage affair with Rosemary's father; but, though she regularly hangs out at The Blue Garter, the local topless/C&W bar, Dolores avoids romance--until pursued by bar-owner Rod, an aging pretty boy who (unbeknownst to Dolores) was once Claud's lover too. And the third put-upon female is parlor assistant Sheila, pregnant by Jeff, the undercover cop at The Blue Garter--who (despite marriage plans with Sheila) can't seem to break off his purely carnal affair with topless dancer Louise. First-novelist Klavans sharply fills in much of the atmosphere and sociological detail here, with ugly/slapstick doings at The Blue Garter and integration woes for the bigoted beauticians. Most of the dialogue is convincingly tuned. But the women's hard-luck stories are static and overdone, especially when that title phrase is repeated over and over again as maudlin underscoring. And, despite some attempts to give these victim/heroines a modicum of dignity, the ultimate effect is largely just pathetic and sordid, even a little patronizing.