Lorna Landvik •
Patty Jane’s House of Curl •
Nora, the narrator in Patty Jane’s House of Curl, grows up watching her mother organize weekly cultural evenings at her Midwestern beauty salon. Patty Jane may swear like a stevedore, but she also serves homemade banana bread to patrons swathed in pale-green monogrammed smocks and scented bandanas, with harp music playing in the background. “The room looked overtaken by a bunch of Old West bandits assembled for a Dippety-Doo heist.”
Nora’s father has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, only to surface years later as the model on a cereal box. Aunt Harriet, Patty Jane’s sister and closest friend, drinks herself into the gutter after her diminutive fiancé dies in an airline crash. The mother-in-law is a sort of Scandinavian Mrs. Malaprop, uttering such pronouncements as “Milk my words,” and—my favorite—“You can go snuff your technicalities.” Birdhouses, rich pastries, and a Native American male manicurist add layers to this warm, memorable story of female bonding.
Landvik, formerly a stand-up comedian, does an admirable job of transferring laughs onto the page. A quilt square intended to portray Patty Jane’s silhouette “looks more like a profile of a water buffalo.” Asked to admire an attractive man, Nora points out, “Remember, Mom, I’m just a child.”
“We all are, hon,” answers her mother. “Some of us are just taller.”
The book’s best line comes in the postscript of a letter written from Tibet: “Gadzooks! What a big chunk of God is to be found by looking into the face of someone you love!”