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A humorless quest for the perfect life

A humorless quest for the perfect life

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By Suzette Francis

Avon Trade

308 pages. $13.95.

Writing a defense of poetry in the 16th century, Sir Philip Sidney declared that its purpose is to “teach and delight.”

This phrase came to mind while reading “Rules for a Pretty Woman,” the first novel of Greensboro native Suzette Francis.

The reader is taught quite a bit about the daily horror show that the main character, Atlanta ob-gyn Lenita Mae Faulkner, endures dealing with patients with troubling case histories.

The reader learns that Lenny has survived childhood obesity, ignorance and rape. She also has managed, as an adult, to carve quite a nice existence and new figure for herself despite her clinging family’s reverse snobbery and poor eating habits. Her siblings verbally abuse her about her nouveau riche life away from the homestead, run by a Mama dying of breast cancer.

The reader also learns that while the good doctor was smart enough to escape the paper factory stench of southern Georgia’s Madoosa County, she is not too bright about men in her life.

But the reader is not delighted by Lenny’s quest to have a baby before the clock winds down. How did this woman have the sense to make it through medical school when she ignores the warning sirens screaming at her about the various men in her life?

The reader also is not delighted to meet the self-serving, marginally criminal people who inhabit Lenny’s realm. Selfish boyfriends, catty women and unperceptive friends nearly undo her. This woman needs to find a new peer group and a better sense of what constitutes a happy life. Indeed, for most of the book, Lenny ignores the best friend she has.

Stylistically, Francis’ book has echoes of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” But the self-help affirmations that Lenny uses to bolster her self-esteem are lessons studied but not learned. And, where Bridget recognized the idiocy of some of her choices, which enabled readers to laugh along with her, Lenny cannot. It is a humorless quest for the perfect life, a striving after an ideal that doesn’t exist.

The novel does contain some good writing. Francis’ use of a literary device of a careless postman who delivers letters to the wrong addresses makes for a good, realistic way to introduce characters and is reminiscent of early correspondence-based novels.

Her description of the frazzled, attractive doctor running near-naked through a hospital corridor is good. The most evocative passages are those describing Lenny’s jogs through the city in the darkening, fragrant twilight.

The novel does teach us quite a bit about elite African American society in a major city. But this reader just wishes it delighted a little more.

Paula Boyd is a columnist for The Mebane Enterprise.

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