Three generations of a dysfunctional family come full circle to discover that the definition of the perfect American family allows for a lot of latitude.
Baggott (Girl Talk, 2001) sets her second novel in suburban Delaware 1987, where 16-year-old Ezra is recounting the events that took place six months earlier, the main one having been his summer work as gardener at the Pinkerings, a job that included his having sex with Janie Pinkering, ignoring the lawn, learning tennis, and—embarrassed by his webbed toes—avoiding the pool. At home, life includes somehow enduring his half-sister Mitzie and oafish stepfather, the dentist Dilworth Stocker, who rescued his wacky ex-beauty queen mother, Pixie (Miss New Jersey, 1970), from a life of deliberate prostitution after Ezra’s dad left. “ ‘It’s money and sex, isn’t it?’ Pixie would tell her dates. ‘Let’s just make it a fair exchange without the middleman. . . .’ ” Ezra’s story of teenage angst is alternated with Pixie’s much darker ruminations: about her unsupportive mother, the “stranger” who invaded her girlhood bed, her friend Wanda (Runner-up Miss Bayonne, 1963) aborting her unwanted child with a knitting needle, her brother Cliff blown to pieces in Vietnam, and the discovery of her “embarrassingly handsome” husband in bed with a man. The bubble bursts when Pixie’s mother’s comments bring the truth about the past into focus and Pixie ends up in the loony bin after shooting Dilworth as he sleeps beside her. With the family torn apart, Ezra learns that his real father is gay and irresponsible, that Janie Pinkering never loved him, that Dilworth and Mitzie are dear to his heart, and that maybe they are, after all, the perfect American family they’ve all been dreaming about.
An accomplished and charmingly messy tale of love and redemption.