Comfort Reads: Jo-Ann Mapson’s Bad Girl Creek

Bad Girl Creek Jo-Ann MapsonSometimes I think I should read more women’s popular fiction.

It isn’t necessary to finish every day with Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day.

Jo-Ann Mapson’s Bad Girl Creek is entertaining and sometimes heartbreakingly lyrical.

My husband checked it out from the library for me and makes fun of me for liking a book with a cute title, but I pay no attention. (I married up, people:  Nobody in his family reads anything that hasn’t been reviewed in The New Yorker.)

It is a charming read, and I find myself fascinated by the four main characters, who have both physical and emotional obstacles to overcome.

Mapson is known for creating feisty, fiscally-challenged heroines who love horses, dogs, and birds.  In Bad Girl Creek, four women come together to save a farm.  Phoebe, a paraplegic artist who makes a bare living off her mobiles and sculptures of women, inherits a flower farm and needs to grow a record crop of poinsettias to keep it.  She acquires three housemates who go into the business with her:  Ness, an African-American farrier who is HIV-positive and who arrives at the farm looking for a place to stable her horse, Leroy; Nance, a beautiful freelance photographer who has broken up with a journalist and has had difficulty finding a place to live with her big dog, Duchess; and Beryl, a battered woman who served time in prison for the accidental death of her husband and who now works in a bird rescue shelter and has adopted a parrot that constantly swears.

Mapson shifts point of view from chapter to chapter, and so we get inside the heads of all four women:  Phoebe, self-reliant and solitary in her thirties, is both apprehensive and happy about embarking on her first sexual relationship with Juan, the UPS man who delivers her book club packages; moody Ness is terrified of being tested for HIV; Nance, a fast talker and brilliant businesswoman with good Southern manners can tweak any suggestion into a business plan; and Beryl, a gentle, addicted reader certainly does not have the prison taint on her personality.

As a bibliophile, I identify with Beryl, who has a relationship to die for with the owner of a used bookstore.  He is even moderately cute.

Beryl,” he says, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up his hawk-like nose.  Earl’s dressed in his usual faded flannel shirt and blue jeans.  His gray hair’s pulled back into a neat ponytail that is secured with a beaded leather thong.  He’s about fifty, cute in an intellectual hippie sort of way.  “Thought when you moved away you’d forgotten about this place.”

He has saved some books for her that he thinks she might like.

Now is that romantic or not?

I can’t pretend any bookseller has ever saved any books for me.

She describes the rare book he keeps in a glass case.

One of them is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, priced at fifteen hundred dollars.  One day when it was rainy and nobody else was int he store, he took it out and let me see the illustrations.  Then he read to me, with different voices for all the characters.  At that moment, I thought to myself, Earl was so good he could have been an actor.

Since these are comfort reads, we needn’t worry too much about the heroines’ futures, though they certainly have their problems.    Unlike the women’s fiction the popular novelist Jennifer Weiner complains about, Mapson’s books are reviewed and esteemed:  she won the American Library Association’s RUSA Award for best women’s fiction in 2011 for her superb novel Solomon’s Oak.

Bad Girl Creek rambles a bit, but I love Mapson’s graceful style and the details about the flowers.  What a well-researched novel!    (Has she lived on a flower farm?) And it is the first of a trilogy, so that means I can spend more time with these characters.

We all love a trilogy.

If you want a more tightly structured book, start with Solomon’s Oak.  But Mapson’s charming characters are always people you want for your friends.