Against the backdrop of the Bush-Kerry election, an Iowa Democrat has a midlife crisis that gives the tornadoes that rip through the state a run for their money.
The timing of Phillipa Maakestad’s decision to tell her husband about her passionate affair is unfortunate—the two theater professors are due to play parents of the bride at their daughter Ginny’s wedding to a wonderful Amish boy. The responsibility is torqued by the facts that his parents, who were close friends of Phillipa’s, were killed when an SUV hit their buggy and raising Ginny has been like a scene out of The Exorcist. Bulimic, addicted, promiscuous, filled with rage—Ginny has touched all the bases. After they get through the (literal) tornado that strikes the wedding, the Ginny problem is finally solved, though not for long. And by then, Phillipa herself has gone off the rails, living in a cheap motel, phoning in her classes, and freaking out about the election. If the author did not intend the Bush-era political ravings to be alienating, she overshot the mark. “Passing the monstrous W barn on 26, I wanted to drive up onto the grass, get out of my car, and hammer on the door, shouting ‘How do you live with yourselves? Why not put up an I’m a Greedy Bigot sign?'” Then, after a flash of self-awareness (I sound like Ginny! she thinks), she returns to form. “The miserable world into which I brought my own miserable child, now a miserable adult, fully aware and sickened to the marrow of her bones by the injustice of this godforsaken place, and as wholly incapable as her pathetic mother to do a goddamn thing about it. About anything. How does anyone with a conscience…do anything but cry, all day every day, navigating this godforsaken world.” This sort of thing, combined with random classist comments—on the baby of a woman she drives to the polls: “Travis: a name destined for the meth den”—seems designed to make the reader hate liberals. Throw in church-sign puns and musicals you can’t get out of your head and a whole mininovel about Nazis in France…whew.
At first, Nissen’s narrator (Osprey Island, 2004, etc.) seems clever and voluble, so daring with her spanking-scene opener, but eventually she wears a bit thin.