Daniels' debut concerns Barb Barrett, a woman who’s hit rock bottom.
Barb’s marriage is over, and she's lost custody of her two young children. To make things grimmer yet, her husband ("the experson") has taken up romantically with the social worker assigned to their case. Reduced to making ends meet by answering letters sent to a local dairy ("We do not have 'free range' cows, as you suggest, because of the danger it would pose to motorists as well as to the cows themselves…"), Barb moves into a drafty, dreary house once occupied by Vladimir and Vera Nabokov, and soon—trying to find space for her daughter's extensive handbag collection—she finds, secreted in a chest of drawers, a novel manuscript that she decides must be (despite its being, it seems, a baseball book/love story about Babe Ruth) a lost Nabokov novel. This discovery leads to Barb's plan to remake herself: first as an author of "mature romances," second as the proprietor of a high-end cathouse that caters—under the thin guise of a) a day spa and b) an experiment in human ecology—to the neglected middle-aged women of her town (a reimagined version of Ithaca, N.Y.). In time she also embarks on a love affair of her own with a virile, buff-chested carpenter named Greg Holder. If this sounds like standard romance, it is and it isn't. The Nabokovian stuff is a feint toward literariness that goes nowhere, and the novel's conceit is by the numbers, the plot a bit creaky and a lot contrived. But Daniels largely succeeds anyway, thanks to Barb's sardonic, perceptive voice.
Barb is fine company—blunt, mordantly funny, with a winning combination of ruthlessness and warmth.