You know you’re in Fannie Flagg territory when the first thing you learn about a character is that she has a Yorkie named Princess Grace Kelly. But, in Lisa Patton’s new novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, being in Frannie Flagg territory’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Tennessee native Leelee Satterfield is one of those women who went from the care of her father to the care of her husband, in her case Baker Satterfield, a man she’s loved since high school. In the habit of never saying no to him, she agrees to pack up their two little daughters and Princess Grace and follow him to Vermont because he’s decided he wants to run an inn. The shock of the transplant is, of course, enormous. The winters are appalling, the summer lasts an eyeblink. The inn stinks, is hideously decorated and run by a German brother and sister, the Schloygins. Rolf is merely dour, but if Stalag 13 had had a matron Helga would have been it.
Leelee may be intimated by the Schloygins, but she finds her employees simply weird. There’s Roberta, who uses the inn to evacuate her bowels since her husband won’t put a toilet in their house. Jeb the handyman also runs the computer company across the way. It’s a shack with one old computer—you can tell it’s old because it’s beige. Pierre, the French chef, speaks little English, and Kerri is the flirty waitress who Leelee mistrusts immediately. Yet, it’s not Kerri who Leelee should have mistrusted. The move to Vermont has been as much of a shock to Baker as it is to Leelee, and eventually he splits. Now the stunned, sheltered Leelee is left to run the inn and its restaurant pretty much alone.
Of course, she’s not as alone as she believes. The motley crew have taken a liking to her and help her out, and her old girlfriends from Memphis even come up for a few days to put some starch in Leelee’s formerly pliant spine. There’s an innocent love interest in the person of Peter, hired after Baker’s desertion and Leelee’s reordering of the inn’s regime. Oh, and by the way, she boldly renames her establishment The Peachtree Inn, even though a real peach tree would find the climate of Vermont lethal.
Funny, somewhat silly, often perceptive, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter is a cozy read to curl up with during the fall.
Arlene McKanic divides her time between Jamaica, New York, and South Carolina.