Wall's second novel (after The Rock Orchard) follows two beautiful, smart, sexually provocative, self-assured sisters whose dalliances captivate their small Southern hometown. Five Points, Tenn., has been brought low by the depression, but the residents retain their interest in the Wilde sisters' feud, which began when Pearl caught her younger sister Kat inappropriately entertaining Bourne Cavanagh, Pearl's fiancé and the heir to a whiskey distillery empire. Pearl disappears and travels the world, sending Kat a tersely worded postcard every month. Sassy and brash Kat stays behind and toys with the town's menfolk, including Mason Hughes, whose wealthy family owns the shirt factory where Kat works. Pearl sashays home after a few years and opens a high-class bordello that caters to the rich and powerful, while Kat continues to entice and evade Mason. Vignettes about secondary characters bog down the momentum, and while some are whimsically entertaining, they are more distracting than narrative-enriching. Fans of Southern women's fiction will forgive the meandering plot and be drawn in by the author's wit. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Wilde Women: A Novelby Paula Wall
The Wilde sisters dove headfirst into this world on fire with life and expectation. With hair black as midnight and/b>/i>
Paula Wall, the national bestselling author of The Rock Orchard, returns with another witty, wise, and romantic tale of two sisters with a talent for seduction and the unfortunate habit of falling for the wrong man every time.
The Wilde sisters dove headfirst into this world on fire with life and expectation. With hair black as midnight and eyes blazing blue, they grow into truly irresistible women. But as well as being blessed with beauty and determination, the Wilde sisters are cursed with equal tastes for mischief and bad men. And both of these appetites always lead to trouble. Love either lifts a woman up or drags her down. When a Wilde woman dies, they don't have to dig a hole.
On Black Friday in Five Points, Tennessee, Pearl Wilde finds her sister, Kat, in the barn wearing both her favorite shoes and her fiancé. As quick to fury as she is to passion, Pearl leaves town immediately. She returns five years later a sophisticated femme fatale, with her claws sharpened like stainless steel and a demeanor so cool that the townspeople can no longer tell if she even has sweat glands. Slowly and deliberately, Pearl begins her revenge on Kat by captivating all the men of Five Points, but all the while never forgetting the one man who had the power to break her heart.
In The Wilde Women, Paula Wall once again bewitches the reader with humor, sass, smarts, and sensuality, creating a hilarious and beguiling world where sometimes the best revenge is forgiveness.
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Read an Excerpt
The stock market crash in 1929 was not the only event that darkened that black Friday in Five Points, Tennessee. That was the day Pearl Wilde found her little sister moaning in the springhouse next to the butter molds. It was cool and dark, but Pearl had no doubt it was her only sibling. Along with her favorite pair of shoes, Kat was wearing Pearl's fiancé.
Naturally, Pearl put all the blame on her sister. A man is like a water well -- he has absolutely no control over who primes his pump.
"This is all your fault!" Pearl screamed, stabbing her finger at Kat's legs sticking straight up in the air.
Slowly, Bourne Cavanagh looked back over his broad bare shoulder, his handsome face blurred with whiskey and desire. Pearl sank into those watery blue eyes like an unholy baptism and her resolve began to dissolve. Bourne knew all he had to do was say the right thing and Pearl would be begging him for forgiveness.
"Please, darlin'," he slurred. "Give me just one more minute."
It just shows how low a woman is willing to go that, for a full thirty seconds, Pearl considered it. But then something rose up inside her, something so deep she didn't know she had it in her. Grabbing the empty whiskey bottle that rolled on the floor, she threw it with all she had. Bourne's hand flew to his face as the bottle smashed against the wall, but not fast enough to stop the shard of glass from slicing him from brow to cheek. He touched his fingers to his face and stared at his blood. Then his eyes slowly rose to Pearl's. The look that passed between them said it all. But then body language had always been their preferred form of communication.
Ripping her shoes off Kat's dirty feet, Pearl caught the first train out of town.
The next three years of Pearl Wilde's life are somewhat murky. Frank Merrill, the pharmacist, thought he spotted her getting into a shiny black limousine in Chicago, but the man with her roughly assured Frank he was mistaken. How Pearl ascended from Five Points into a Chicago limousine was a mystery, but everyone knew she had been born to climb.
Then halfway through Grand Hotel, Eddie McCowan jumped up and pointed at the flickering screen. "That's Pearl Wilde!" he cried out in the dark theater. Dickie Deason, who worked the camera booth on weekends at the Roxy, rewound the projector and played the scene over and over until the film finally snagged and hung. They watched quietly as Pearl's face melted away, but the vision of her covered in shimmering rhinestones and sipping champagne from a long-stemmed glass was forever burned into their minds.
The only other hint of Pearl's whereabouts was the postcards that arrived every month postmarked New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and some place in the Orient nobody at the post office had ever heard of. Regardless of the card's origin, the message was always the same.
"Kat Wilde, I still hope you burn in Hell!"
"Pearl always did have beautiful penmanship," Miss Mabel Hilliard said, running her finger over the exotic stamp with a touch of longing. "And she was a persistent child. Once she sank her teeth in, there was no letting go."
Miss Mabel had been enlightening the bright and the dull alike in the one-room schoolhouse on the Ridge for over forty years. She knew every child in Five Points who had made it to adulthood, and every fall she planted chrysanthemums on the neglected graves of those who hadn't.
"That Pearl Wilde was a looker." The postmaster put in his two cents' worth as he stamped an inkpad and then a stack of envelopes with a rhythmic thud.
"Her sister Kathryn is just as pretty," Miss Mabel said resolutely.
Being a progressive teacher, Miss Mabel treated all her students equally, even when they weren't. She'd had both Wilde girls in her class and knew what they were made of. Born less than a year apart, the sisters were as different as the sun and the moon and just as reluctant to be outshined.
The Lord dealt each Wilde girl a winning hand -- looks, luck, brains, and each other. But like most gamblers they were determined to play the man, not the cards. Pearl slipped from the womb offering her hand to the doctor, while Kat shoved the old bonesetter out of the way and crawled out of her own accord.
Pearl entertained herself with her mother's makeup and jewelry while Kat tossed her dolls aside in favor of the rusty toolbox her mother's latest lover left outside the bedroom door. In school, Kat knew the answer before the question was given. Pearl knew anything taught in a one-room schoolhouse would be of little use to her. Kat could beat any boy at any contest with one hand tied behind her back. Boys surrendered to Pearl just as easily, but it was usually his hands that were tied. Kat was a hellcat, Pearl as pampered and sultry as a Persian with a rhinestone collar.
"Everyone always overestimated Pearl and underestimated Kathryn," Miss Mabel said absently, as she turned the postcard over to study the painting of a winding red dragon on the front. "The serious are always taken more seriously than the lighthearted, the assumption being that happy people are too dim to know they are unhappy."
Pearl had a diamond-shaped beauty mark at the corner of her mouth and that set her tone. There was no doubt in anyone's mind she would make something of herself. Just as there was no doubt that Kat, being the spitting image of her mother, would fritter her life away. But Miss Mabel did not judge a book by its cover, or a child by the mother who bore her.
"Kathryn was a smart child. She could do math better than any of my boys."
Miss Annabelle, the town telephone operator, huffed. "Kat Wilde dropped out of the womb a little smart aleck all right."
"She was a gay child," Miss Mabel corrected.
"Kat gets her gayness from her mother," Annabelle declared to the postmaster, as if he didn't already know. "Lorna Wilde would have tap-danced on the Titanic. My barn cat is a better mother than Lorna Wilde was to those girls."
At that, Miss Mabel was silenced. She could not defend Lorna Wilde's mothering or lack thereof. Lorna Wilde had always been a wing walker. She didn't let go of one man until she had a firm grip on the next. It was a preoccupation that didn't leave much time for motherhood. The sisters reared each other and did their best to raise Lorna up, as well. Despite their efforts, nothing elevated Lorna's mind much higher than a mattress.
"Lorna Wilde." Mayor Hardin Wallace sighed the name as he tacked a city council meeting notice onto the post office bulletin board. "Now there was the real looker in the family. Had legs from here to eternity."
Hardin was immediately sorry that he'd said it. It was not something a politician should say in mixed company, especially when his wife is standing in the mix.
June Wallace sucked in a quick ragged breath and a stricken look came over her perpetually furled face. Hardin braced himself for the scene that was sure to follow. The only thing worse than being married to a jealous woman was being married to a crazy jealous woman. Crazy June Bug Wallace was well established on both counts. Not the best situation for a man with one eye on the governor's mansion and the other eye on the legs of every woman in town.
Clutching her pocketbook to her breast, June ran out of the post office, Hardin right behind her.
"Now, June Bug," he pleaded on his way out the door, "you know you are the love of my life."
Everyone in the post office watched through the front window without much interest. The Wallaces' marital strife was, after all, old news. Then Miss Mabel passed the postcard to Annabelle and the two old maids continued their debate about the Wilde women. Since the government had yet to start taxing gossip, it still traded freely in Five Points. By the end of the day everyone in town had examined the latest postcard and presented it as evidence to support their preexisting position. The optimists insisted Pearl had married a rich man, maybe some kind of royalty, and was living a life of leisure. The pessimists, whose standing in life was only improved by the failure of others, insisted no woman except a missionary's wife would dirty the soles of her shoes in the heathen Orient. If there was one thing everyone did agree on, it was that while Pearl Wilde was no doubt spreading something, it sure as hell wasn't the word of God. Needless to say, by the time Kat picked up her mail, the picture of the exotic red dragon had been all but rubbed away.
In December of 1932, no postcard came. That and the Depression caused a gray gloom to settle over the already depressed little town. There were no jobs, no money, and no hope. To add to their despair, an ice storm moved in on Christmas Eve. The temperature dropped so fast the mercury could not keep up. Every surface glazed with sooty ice and the town square seemed made of black glass. Along with the economy, Mother Nature had also turned against them.
While the women stuffed old newspapers into the whistling cracks around the windows to keep out the biting cold, the men sat slumped at the kitchen table. They stared into their coffee cups trying to build up the courage to leave home and travel north to the steel mills. Of course, no man wanted to live like a red-eyed rat in a mill town, sweltering six days a week on swing shift, sucking soot, and having holes branded into his skin from the molten metal spitting out of the giant crucibles. He might as well skip life and go straight to hell. But it paid thirty-six cents an hour. So the question became, at what price was he willing to sell his soul?
Outside, electric lines bowed and ice-glazed trees snapped like swizzle sticks. The wine at St. Jerome's Church turned to a bloodred slush in the Communion cup and icicles hung from the slated eaves like crystal cat teeth. When the buzzards roosting in the tangled old oak tree in the church cemetery tried to take flight, their frozen wings were so heavy with ice they flopped to the ground and froze there.
A cold, gray silence fell over Five Points. Layers of ice frosted the wooden nativity scene until the features blurred and Midnight Mass was canceled. Those who didn't want to waste precious money on lighting, and those who didn't have any money to waste, crawled into bed at dusk.
And so, the town was asleep when Pearl Wilde stepped off the train at the Five Points depot.
"Pearl Wilde?" Pewitt the porter asked, as though seeing a ghost. "Is that really you?"
She had always been a fast girl. Now, from the looks of her, she traveled at the speed of light -- blue-black hair bobbed, lips bloodred, eyes smudged in charcoal liner. She wore a white cashmere dress under a full-length white chinchilla coat. Even Pewitt knew a woman wasn't supposed to wear white after Labor Day. From the looks of her, Pearl Wilde shouldn't wear white at all.
"Folks have been wondering about you," he said, as though it were an accusation.
The decisions a woman makes make the woman, which at least partially explains why when a man looked at Pearl with eyes half drawn like bedroom shades and an attitude cool as cotton sheets, his thoughts immediately turned to an unmade bed. Pewitt did the math and figured she must be around twenty-seven now. Twenty-seven was getting up there for a woman by Five Points' standards. But while Pearl had hardened during her absence, she had not aged. The ice in her veins had preserved her.
She was still as aloof as a cat. Pewitt always thought she had a big head, the way she stood back and watched the world without expression. He'd never found the courage to talk to her when they were young. But he was a man now, married, two kids, and an employee for the L&N Railroad. And it was just the two of them standing on that platform in the dark.
"Lord," he said in a husky voice his wife would not have recognized, "you sure are looking good."
While he stomped his feet and beat his gloved hands together to keep from freezing, Pearl seemed oblivious to the cold. Her coat hung open and the slit up her dress flapped in the wind. Pewitt's eyes fixed on her leg, praying for a glimpse of more.
Taking a long slow draw off her cigarette, Pearl took a detached look around. As a rule, Pewitt never got involved, not even in his own life. But that night he followed her stare to the crumpled newspapers blowing on the street, the faded paint peeling off the train station, and the boarded-up storefront windows grimy with soot and apathy. Then her eyes landed on him. Pewitt pulled his arms up in his coat sleeves to hide his ragged cuffs.
"Times have been hard here since you left," he said as if to apologize for the state of affairs.
An apology is not an admission of guilt. Pewitt was, after all, just a porter at the train station. What can one man do? There was no expression on Pearl's face one way or the other.
"Are you home for good," he asked to fill the silence, "or just passing through?"
Taking one last drag off her cigarette, she dropped the spent butt onto the gritty platform and ground it into memory with the toe of her high-heeled shoe. A wisp of white smoke lingered at her parted lips as she gazed past him. The look on her face was so cold, Porter felt sure a man's mouth would freeze to her lips if he tried to kiss her.
"I've decided to open a whorehouse."
Copyright © 2007 by Paula Wall
Meet the Author
Paula Wall is the author of two collections of short pieces, My Love Is Free...But the Rest of Me Don't Come Cheap and If I Were a Man, I'd Marry Me. The latter was a semifinalist for the Thurber Prize. She currently lives outside of Nashville in a converted barn on 150 acres at the foot of the Highland Rim. Her nearest neighbor is one mile down the road, which, frankly, is a little too close for comfort. The Rock Orchard is her first novel. Visit her website at www.PaulaWall.com.
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- Clarksville, Tennessee
- B.S., Environmental Science, Austin Peay State University
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I loved this book because Wall manages to bring every character's history to the forefront. While the Wilde Women are the talk of the town, everyone is a main character because noone's voice is insignificant. It's kind of like watching a soap opera. You get to intimately know everyone's backgrounds and motivations. Wall is big picture-minded. Like a soap opera, she successfully switches scenes while demonstrating how each one is interconnected to tell the bigger story. I also love this book because it portrays the strength of women despite their vulnerabilities and dependence on men. Wall confidently explains their ulterior motives in a "do whatcha gotta do to survive" kind of way while simultaneously paying homage to the secret arsenal every woman possesses. The Wilde women are unapologetic and daring; sustaining readers' interest. Their history and life events threads through everyone else's story; linking them like a strand of pearls. Wall's voice is mysteriously tough, rugged, sensual, and mystical. This is definitely a great read!
a racy plot with unexpected twists and some good belly laughs
Not as good as Rock Orchard, but still a good read, I really appreciate the writer's style and clever turn of phrase. Would like to see a sequel to this story.
At first I really didn't think that I was going to care at all about what happened to the characters but, by the end of the book, I found myself touched. There was a depth to the characters and their actions and emotions that I wasn't expecting based on the writing style and the tone of the beginning. There were still a few things that I thought could definitely have been better and a few sketchy areas in the plotline but overall it was a really great book.
I don't typically write reviews, but I'm slightly confused by the positive reviews for this book and felt like there should be some perspective shed onto the situation. The book I read was not at all wonderful or hilarious. In fact, it was a CHALLENGE to finish. Paula Wall is a talented writer, but this story and the multitude of characters and changing perspectives is dizzying and just plain annoying. There is very little chance to get to know any of the individual characters and I have yet to figure out why this tale of an entire town is titled, The Wilde Women when they barely make longer than cameo appearances in the text. This book definitely is all talk and very little follow through.
This is a really good book and a fast read. Not only do you meet Pearl and Kat, but you meet lots of interesting characters from the town! I hope Paula Wall writes a second book telling us what happens to the characters in the town!
In 1929 in Five Points, Tennessee, Pearl Wilde finds her fiancé Bourne Cavanagh, oldest son of the owner of Cavanagh Whiskey Distillery, having sex with her sister Kat, who to add insult to injury is wearing her shoes. Pearl takes her shoes back and leaves for Chicago. As she travels overseas and across America, Pearl sends home post cards to Kat telling her to go to hell. However, late in 1932 she returns home to open up a whore house..................... Pearl enters the dilapidated hardware store owned by Bud Marshall. The men who hang out there are awed by her except the handsomest nineteen year old Eddie McCowan. She hires him to work for her and tells his mom Maysie that she is pleased with her son¿s work. Bud cleans up his store and Maysie persuades the men to accept work at Pearl¿s place. The Mayor informs the town council they will do nothing to prevent Pearl opening up her business, the first new one in town in a decade........................ Kat works at the Randolph and Hughes Shirt Factory where she sews sleeves onto the shirts. Mason Hughes, the son of the owner, sees her and wants her. She rejects his advances. Still Mason visits Kat who tells him to leave, but unbeknownst to both of them Pearl watches and realizes her sister wants this man because she pushes away those she desires she now has her tool of revenge......................... The ensemble cast contains unique characters that bring to life Depression Era Tennessee while the story line has an underlying whimsical feel as the Wilde sisters wink at American history yet brings a sense of time and place to the delightful story line. The final wild twist will surprise readers as Paula Wall provides the audience with a fascinating historical romance starring two Wilde women, their men, and the fully developed townsfolk who observe the sibling war......................... Harriet Klausner