The gently mad inhabitants of fictional Tula Springs are doing what they do best—minding one another’s business—in the sly Louisiana author’s amiable eighth outing.
Old acquaintances from Modern Baptists (1983), North Gladiola (1985), and elsewhere pop up intermittently in a ramshackle narrative that revolves around the appealing figure of middle-aged Lou(ise) Jones. She’s a former college music-teacher now underemployed (but better paid) as receptionist at the local Christian health club WaistWatch—and unhappily separated from loving husband Don, who’s guarding his parents’ home from an untrustworthy tenant and a belligerent lesbian couple, among others. The story meanders along introducing folks who swim into the Jones’s orbit, including Lou’s overachieving housemaid Alpha (a pivotal figure who never appears), Alpha’s supernaturally fastidious American-African mother Mrs. Ompala, Lou’s pot-smoking gal pal Grady Morgen, and her WaistWatch superiors, febrile and neurasthenic Maigrite and muscular Christian workout guru Brother Moodie. Nobody does much more than posture and fret, partial exceptions being pistol-packing tax assessor Mrs. Melvin Tudie and Snopes-like miscreant F.X. Pickens. The plots that more or less engage them all have to do with a hotly contested academic post, an antique dresser, a jealous octogenarian husband stalking his fugitive bride in a golf cart, and Lou’s vacillating fixations on her own manic-depressive marital state, career crises, and family history. It sounds like fun, but isn’t really, because Wilcox jumps from one oddball character and ludicrous situation to another without bothering to develop anything or anyone credibly. The best features of Heavenly Days are its delicious throwaway lines (“ . . . he was too lazy to pick his own nose”) and non sequiturs (when somebody “wants to know if her notes on Hittite phalli are in her top dresser drawer,” it seems a perfectly reasonably thing to say).
Tula Springs is always worth a visit, but this is minor Wilcox.