In the course of this wide-ranging, richly detailed novel, every kind of human problem finds its way to the doorstep of Quee Purdy, a tireless entrepreneur for whom love and sex are the "hot commodities" in which she deals. McCorkle's extraordinary storytelling skills allow her to juggle at least six parallel stories in a novel about playing God. And she does it divinely.
The sad, gritty truths about life have always poked through the graceful prose and smart, funny dialogue of McCorkle's novels and stories (Ferris Beach, Crash Diet, etc.), and here again she illuminates the ways that infidelity, illness, sexual passion and existential desperation can afflict ordinary lives. Her central character, blowsy, outspoken, 60-ish-but-still-sensual Quee Purdy, is a mysterious woman who knows many secret things about her neighbors, and who has a gift, and a mission, for helping those who come to her with their problems. What they don't know about Quee, however, is that, 25 years ago, Cecil Lowe made love to her just before he committed suicide, leaving a wife and toddler son. Bewildered and bereft, Quee has written unsigned, histrionic letters to her departed lover ever since, creating a thick dead letter file in the Fulton, N.C., post office. Meanwhile, Cecil's son grew up to be a skirt-chaser, but his one true love married someone else. Now Quee's goddaughter Denny Parks--who has arrived to work as a message therapist in Quee's newest enterprise, a smoke-enders clinic--falls for Tom. Theirs is not the only romantic liaison that Quee engineers; in fact many different fates--including a well-deserved murder--are played out with Quee's connivance. McCorkle interweaves these plot strands well, but in other respects this novel falters. Quee's letters, though meant to convey her lusty personality, are irritating to read; and too many scenes in the novel seem contrived. While she unleashes some nice surprises and illustrates her theme--that everyone is haunted by the ghosts of their dreams and the legacies of their pasts--McCorkle has not quite succeeded in making the citizens of Fulton as irresistible as those in her earlier books. Author tour.