14 April 2007

Book Review: Hot Dish by Connie Brockway

Hot Dish Jenn Hallesby’s one shot at escaping tiny Fawn Creek, Minnesota, and returning to her old life in South Carolina collapses in ignominy. First she’s robbed of the Queen Buttercup crown - and accompanying scholarship - by a technicality she didn’t even know existed. Then the artist carving the butter busts of the finalists gets arrested in front of her. It’s definitely not what Jenn had planned.

Twenty-two years later, she’s Jenn Lind, the Martha of the Midwest, the Next Big Thing in lifestyle television. And it is, ironically, all thanks to the Scandinavian cooking she learned as her talent for the Miss Fawn Creek pageant all those years ago. Then her adoptive hometown invites her to take part in its sesquicentennial, along with famous sculptor Steve Jaax and his career-altering creation - the butter head. After more than two decades in the Hallesbys’ freezer, it’s something of a celebrity in its own right, as well as a potential Guinness World Record. And Jenn’s new network just can’t say no. So Jenn winds up back in the town where she never fitted in, staying with her formerly wealthy parents, with a cheerfully egotistical celebrity in tow. Things get even worse when three local losers kidnap the butter head as payback for the mayor’s laying a carpark over their dope crop, and hold it to ransom. The town bigwigs want it back for the parade. Steve wants it because it contains the key to the mausoleum vault holding his most famous work, which he had stolen twenty-two years earlier to protect it from his avaricious soon-to-be-ex wife. And his former cellmate wants it for the same reason. But Jenn’s biggest worry is that her ultra-conservative new boss will discover exactly what she did to try to divest herself of the Miss Fawn Creek crown....

This was an enjoyable screwball comedy, with likeable characters and some of the most inept crooks I’ve met outside of Janet Evanovich. Jenn was a great heroine, and proof that even in romanceland, life can begin at 40. Even though it ultimately didn’t make her happy, I still wish I had some of her drive and ambition (qualities I seem to be sadly lacking). Though I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near American Media Services. She and Steve were a perfect match: she didn’t pander to his celebrity status like the rest of his acquaintances, and pointed out a few hard facts about his career’s direction - or lack thereof. And Steve took one look at the town she had spent most of her life escaping and saw everything good about it.

As a setting, Fawn Creek was, for me, both an asset and a disadvantage. I like to read about things outside my normal life, and a tiny snow-bound village is about as far as you can get from a sprawling subtropical metropolis. But since my experience of towns of much less than 250 000 people is of the just-passing-through variety, I kept pausing to think, Is that really what life in a small town is like? Not a criticism of the author, merely a reflection on the reader.

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776