In this fiction debut from Notaro (Autobiography of a Fat Bride, 2003, etc.), a quirky freelance writer from Arizona relocates to Spaulding, Wash., with her professor husband and enters the local “Sewer Pipe Queen” pageant to make friends.
It does not take long after arriving in her new town for Maye to realize she is not in Phoenix anymore. A lovely, liberal enclave with draconian recycling laws, cops hooked on organic donuts and a fitness-minded mailman who jogs his route, Spaulding is also, she realizes, difficult to penetrate for a newcomer who works from home. Friendly and full of good intentions, the chubby writer initially blows it with her husband Charlie’s colleagues after accidentally exposing herself at a party at the Dean’s house. Her subsequent efforts to meet people go awry as well. There is the band of wiccans who want to bathe her, a militant vegetarian who exiles her from his club after he catches her tucking into a juicy steak and a seemingly normal bookstore clerk who goes nuts after one glass of wine too many. Then Maye finds out about the Sewer Pipe Queen. An odd competition where “talent” and originality matter more than beauty, Maye decides that winning will boost her reputation, but only if she can find a former queen to sponsor her. Using her reporting skills, she tracks down the long-lost legendary queen of all Sewer Pipe Queens—Ruby Spicer. Now a crazy old bat raising dogs on the outskirts of town, the hard drinking Ruby is, to say the least, not a traditional mentor. But the two woman bond, with Maye helping to uncover the sad truth as to why Ruby left town. Ruby in turn coaches Maye on a showstopper of an act, in which Maye dances and lip-syncs to an 80s-era Pat Benatar song, accompanied on piano by her Australian Sheepdog Mickey. Really. The book has funny gags, but it feels more like a collection of silly situations that a cohesive novel.
Contrived zaniness, short on plot and character.