In this novel, an estranged mother and daughter in 1980s Louisiana struggle to meet each other halfway.
It’s Mother’s Day, 1983, when Joy Savoy, a country music radio DJ in Pitts, Louisiana, decides to start talking about her mother. Quida Raye Perkins is a “truck-driving, chain-smoking, sun-tanning, law-breaking, cola-guzzling know-it-all” with a tendency to show up unannounced, which she did that morning. The two haven’t seen much of each other in two and a half years, since the “unspeakable event” that imploded their family, but that’s about to change. As it turns out, station employees and listeners, with nicknames like Boo-Boo and WildDog, love Joy’s unhinged anecdotes, and she quickly ascends to a syndicated show. These “two full-grown women without a shred of innocent whimsy between them” have more in common than they think, like their gnawing grief and terrible taste in men, but this realization comes late and at a steep cost. Despite an initial day-by-day pace that peeks into the mundane joys and gripes of an essentially impoverished community, the story inexplicably begins to skip over days, weeks, and even months, dampening the tension between Joy and her mother and severing investment in the supporting characters. The exceptions are Tanya Lynn, Joy’s man-eater of a best friend, and Ira Everhart, a married journalist at the station with whom the protagonist finds herself in an ultimately heartbreaking affair. Unfortunately, the tragedy at the core of Joy and Quida Raye’s dysfunction is revealed too early; once out, the plot loses momentum, and the increasing lapses in time generate no apparent growth or action until the very end. Still, Des Jardins’ prose easily inhabits this soupy, backwoods community with imagery that is as evocative as it is occasionally revolting, e.g., Quida Raye’s chronic stomach problems: “Something else came up besides olive loaf and mayonnaise on white bread. Something she was more accustomed to passing with both feet slapped like catfish on either side of the commode seat.”
A haunting but uneven exploration of maternal relationships and grief.