This chain-smoking, margarita-swilling, varmint-shooting 68-year-old with secrets in her past is nothing like the other moms in town—and her 10-year-old daughter is terrified of losing her.
Willow Havens was conceived “in something close to a bona fide miracle, when [Polly Havens] and her soon-to-be-late husband of thirty-seven years consummated their love for the last time.” Three days after the funeral, Polly, in her late 50s at that point, learned she was pregnant. Advised by her doctor to terminate the pregnancy, she advised him to drop dead. Five months later, Willow was born, and Polly raises her the same way she raised her first two, long since grown and gone: “Folksy southern wisdom and distinctly custom-made punishments.” But Willow is worried. “What tormented me most, even more than [her]secrets, were her cigarettes.” Polly works as a checker at Walgreens, but her real calling is her flower and vegetable garden, “which encompassed most of our front and back yards” and is the source of epic feuds with squirrels and other "varmints" ranging from beetles, stinkbugs, and squirrels to the neighbors’ pets and the neighbors themselves. Hepinstall’s (Blue Asylum, 2012, etc.) lively story follows the pair into Willow’s teen years, when her best friend, Dalton, becomes a boyfriend and she starts to spend time with girls who have very different lives: mothers with Fendi bags and Pilates classes and crews of Mexican workers cleaning their mansions. Willow’s brother Shel comes home from Mexico, where he’s been nursing his wounds since his wife dumped him. When Willow suggests he try internet dating, Polly wonders what he’ll put in his profile. “Drunk, hates women, no job, lives with mother?” When Polly comes down with a case of the Bear, which is the family’s word for cancer, Willow’s worst fears take shape.
Classic elements of Southern comedy—evil twins, people dropping dead, a faith healer, a river-rafting trip—surround a lovable pair of central characters.