In this Southern comedy of manners, Clark (Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on this Planet, 2014) explores the world of charismatic, eccentric Assistant Headmaster Norman Laney as he attempts to reshape the cloistered world of high-society Alabama from within.
A hugely overweight arts aficionado with a blue-collar background, Laney is an anomaly in the upper-crust community of 1980s Mountain Brook, an all-white suburb of Birmingham, insulated from the turmoil of the post–civil rights era by wealth and tradition. Laney’s mission at the private Brook-Haven School is to infuse some of the outside world back into Mountain Brook by launching the children of the elite into the Ivy League, or at least making them familiar with the work of Jackson Pollock. Though he’s adored by his students and the country-club set alike, Laney faces one major foe: Tommy Turbyfill, the headmaster, who's intent on pushing him out of the school for a mysterious violation. Clark uses her considerable skill to enliven Laney’s attempts to hold on to his position while simultaneously navigating the minefields of dinner parties, gallery openings, and parent-teacher conferences. Laney is based on Clark’s own high school headmaster, and her blow-by-blow descriptions of the mechanics of the school, and of Mountain Brook in general, sometimes make the book read like a meandering cocktail-party story. But when she gets the pacing right, it becomes an insider's guide to the drama of the debutante set and a perceptive look at the growing pains of a community attempting to change its deeply entrenched ways.
A funny, gossipy look at a slice of the South through the eyes of an indelible character.