Dancing Backward in Paradise
by Vera Jane Cook
Published by Musa Publishing
Genre: chick lit
3 / 5
Grab some grits, pull up a chair, and get ready to transport yourself to a trailer park in Hixson (emphasis on HICKS), Tennessee.
Grace Place (for reals … that’s her name) finds herself in a bit of limbo. She’s out of high school, working as a dog sitter / babysitter / housekeeper for the richest woman in town, a young(ish) woman married to an older man dying of cancer. Grace’s mom wants her to earn enough money to take her to New York, where Grace can live out her mother’s dreams. Grace herself appears to not have any dreams of her own.
The longer she works for Betty Ann, the more confused Grace becomes. For one thing, there is the matter of her boyfriend Lenny Bean, whose lighter keeps winding up in Betty Ann’s home. For another, Betty Ann is a bit strange. She’s married, has a lovely baby girl, but likes to rock that headboard with any man who comes along.
Naturally, Grace discovers just why that lighter ends up at Betty Ann’s house. And Grace becomes suspicious: are Lenny Bean’s motives pure, or does he want to bring harm to Betty Ann?
How does Grace react to all of this? She goes to New York, where the story makes a 180 and changes course.
The problems with this book are that it tries to be too many things: a romance, a mystery, a coming of age. Grace is almost unbelievably naive, to the point that you wonder how she even figures out how to walk down the streets of New York, much less find a job. The plot convolutions take far too many twists and turns.
And yet … it’s impossible not to like Grace Place.
Yes, she’s woefully naive, but she means well, which is more than you can say for nearly every other character in Hixson. (Somewhat ironically, the people in New York – that churlish lot who supposedly would rather ignore a knifing right in front of them than help out a stranger – turn out to be the nice ones.) When Grace can’t see what’s right in front of her, we want to protect her rather than knock some sense into her. We want her to find success in New York, and when she returns to Hixson, we want her to do so with spectacular success.
For all of the weaknesses here, the story is entertaining, and Grace is adorable.