By Mary Kay Andrews
HarperCollins. 419 pp. $24.95
Oh, for Bridget Jones. For a few of her wisecracks about her mother or a "smug married," for her recounting of an embarrassing gaffe at a party. Oh, for just one diary entry about the number of cigarettes and drinks she did or did not have, depending on how she felt like counting that day.
A few superficial elements of "Bridget Jones's Diary" are present in "Hissy Fit," the new novel by Mary Kay Andrews, author of the popular "Savannah Blues." Men behaving badly. Women behaving badly. Embarrassing mothers or mother-in-laws-to-be. The two novelists draw upon very different worlds -- London vs. the American South -- but they nonetheless tell very similar stories: Will girl get boy, and even will occasionally sassy girl realize she wants rich, perfect boy?
Andrews also seems to be after the same chick-lit, "go girl" tone that can be funny, stylish and, in a backward sort of way, oddly feminist: You get your guy not by primping and preening but by being outlandish and angry and strong. But her humor is forced, and her characters flat. Where Bridget Jones is funny and recognizable in her superficiality, Andrews's Keeley Murdock is simply superficial.
"Hissy Fit" opens, not surprisingly, with a hissy fit. The narrator, Murdock, discovers at her wedding-rehearsal dinner at a Georgia country club that her fiance is cheating on her. She overhears the familiar hiccup he makes when he's having sex and discovers him in flagrante delicto with her maid of honor. She shouts, throws crystal and cancels the wedding, then uses his key to scratch an epithet into his red BMW Z3. Except she spells it wrong, which makes the owner of the adjacent car -- handsome, wealthy Will Mahoney -- laugh out loud and give her a ride home.
Mahoney (is it an accident that his name, rejiggered, spells, Ah, Money?) hires Keeley, an interior decorator, to direct the remodeling of his newly purchased antebellum mansion, which he also wants to use to seduce a gorgeous Atlanta lawyer whom he spotted raising money on public television. This gives Keeley an excuse to run around the South to flea markets and antique shops, drop the names of countless designers, spend lots of Will's money and investigate another subplot to the book: why her mother apparently left town with another man when Keeley was 7 and was never heard from again.
All this sounds lively and funny. However politically incorrect it might be, a story about whether a girl gets her man can be entertaining. And it has been a theme in storytelling for ages, in both classic literature (Jane Austen, Henry James, George Eliot) and pop culture (Danielle Steel, every screwball comedy you can think of). And parts of the novel are touching, as when Keeley remembers the suitcase she kept under her bed for years as a girl, packed so she was ready to go if her mother ever showed up.
But "Hissy Fit" is not entertaining. Keeley Murdock may be an interior decorator, but I'm afraid, in this book at least, that her creator is an exterior decorator. The novel is laden with designer names, House Beautiful-like descriptions, pretentious people acting pretentiously and cheap attempts at humor and wisdom. Keeley allegedly cares about the fate of the minimum-wage workers whose bra factory Mahoney has purchased (yes, more fodder for cheap jokes). But when the Atlanta lawyer whom Mahoney is obsessed with buys $400 shoes and Keeley feels morally superior for buying merely $200 shoes, we're not convinced. When Keeley cries, "How could he?" after her rehearsal dinner, her aunt says, "Oh honey. He's a man, that's all. . . . They've got different names and different addresses, but it's all just the same damn sorry man." A trite answer, except there's no indication that the author realizes it.
This is a book in which the reader knows from the minute he steps onstage which guy this girl is going to get, and exactly where her long-lost mother will be found. But maybe it's not the predictability that made me lose interest. Knowing or not knowing the end is only part of it; what also counts is how the story is told. Mary Kay Andrews not only tips off her ending but leaves us not caring if we reach it.