Sequel to the much darker Crazy Ladies (1990), West’s fourth is a marathon romp through Southern froth.
After leaping from the roof of husband Albert’s dime-store, Dorothy Hamilton McDougal weathers confinement in an asylum and electroshock by corresponding with First Ladies. Daughter Bitsy clobbers husband Claude with a package of frozen baby backribs (he tried to drown her in a slow-draining sink), then flees to the Gulf Coast with baby Jennifer. Dorothy’s sister, Clancy Jane, holds down the ancestral abode at 214 Dixie in Crystal Falls, Tenn. A former hippie, Clancy is married to physician Byron. Next door in Dorothy’s brick house, son Mack, a Vietnam vet and amputee, lives in redneck bliss with Earlene. From 1972 to 1994, the Hamilton/MacDougal women strive in vain to escape their collective destiny: bumbling and/or skirt-chasing men. Parental favoritism and sibling distrust, traceable to redoubtable ancestor Miss Gussie, continue. Robbed of custody by Claude’s snooty family, Bitsy nevertheless becomes an off-and-on babysitter for Jennifer. Dorothy returns from the funny farm with shocked-white hair and eyebrows singed bare. Albert has divorced her and married a cashier from the store. Clancy starts a gourmet café, then moves to a remote mountain house. She replaces Byron, driven off by her Buddhist scorched-earth school of interior décor, with proliferating cats. Along the way, her daughter, Violet, becomes a psychiatrist and enjoys the story’s only stable marriage. After an aborted engagement to a dentist, whose flagrantly awful family mires him forever, Bitsy acquires polish as the wife of New Orleans star cardiologist Louie. But his incorrigible yen for nubile nurses eventually compels her to flee to London, where she finally finds a trustworthy male. A wedding scene, in which Jennifer narrowly misses succumbing to the Wentworth syndrome of enabling ne’er-do-well husbands, brings the bloodlines and plotlines together in clichéd celebration of family craziness.
At 500-plus pages, more panorama then drama.