Aging beauty queen Miranda forces her preteen daughter to compete in pageants while her pill-popping husband, Ray, a nurse, conducts an affair with the teenage granddaughter of a hospice patient in this first novel from TV writer and producer Butler (Family Guy, etc.).
Miranda's own haphazard beauty-contest experience hasn't deterred her from starving her 9-year-old daughter, Bailey, so she can look "sexy" while competing in the Southern United States pageant circuit; Bailey, meanwhile, is binging behind Miranda's back to make herself too fat to compete. Ray, whose brief stint as a doctor was cut short after he killed seven patients at a hospital in Detroit, now works as a nurse to support his debt-ridden family. When he's not accidentally killing patients (his tally is now 365 dead), Ray enjoys sleeping with 17-year-old Courtney right in front of her hospice-bound grandfather. When Courtney gets pregnant and has to pay the state more than $12,000 in back taxes on her now-deceased grandfather's house, Ray's and Miranda's lives become far more complicated—and unexpectedly lucrative—than anyone could have imagined. Pairing no-holds-barred character studies with pointed cultural commentary (on texting: "It was as if the world had finally figured out the perfect way to communicate, then decided to do so using only Prince lyrics"), Butler manages to elicit laughter and winces in equal measure. The situations are styled with a kind of absurdist realism; although extreme, nothing that takes place is impossible, partly because Butler is dexterous in the way he intertwines his characterization and plotting. Repugnant, tasteless and often behaving illegally, Butler's characters are the human embodiment of misguided desire.
Butler's excellent observational skills and hilarious prose make this a simultaneously funny and awful satire of thwarted ambition.