Friday, June 23, 2006

Back Talk

Saxon Bennett
Bella Books
1594930287, $13.95

"WKRP" comes out with some queerly quirky fun!

Intelligent, witty, and classy -- not to mention beautiful -- Anne Counterman, a successful talk show host in Seattle, is facing her 40th birthday with trepidation. Over a year ago, her husband Gerald left her for a man, an event that still hurts and haunts her. Further and more currently troublesome, Anne has become bored with her radio work. In an effort to improve her show and rekindle her own interest in work, Anne finds a new web wizard to revamp her website. Enter Hilton Withers.

Hilton Withers is also at a turning point. Reared by her grandmother after the death of her mother when she was six, Hilton is "Senator Percy Withers' estranged lesbian … daughter." (15) For the last few years Hilton has been trying to decide what she'll do with her life. Her grandmother's death has made her heiress to a pickle company fortune and she has fulfilled the estate requirement that she graduate college. Currently Hilton lives in a small garden cottage behind the Victorian house she shared with her grandmother. She moved there because of the perpetual parties hosted by her two roommates and her girlfriend, Nat.

Natalie was Hilton's first love, but it is a rocky, complicated, and increasingly disconnected relationship. In truth it's time they broke up but confronting issues is not Hilton's best skill. However, at the radio station Hilton finds that she enjoys her work, begins to think of herself as more accomplished and "adult" and finds that she cares about her coworkers, one in particular.

Add to this possible romance a group of quirky characters like: Veronica, the control freak show's producer who, it turns out, could give Martha Stewart a run for her homemaker money and is a "fourth-generation lesbian" (143); Lillian, the show's septuagenarian, hard-of-hearing, call-screener; Hilton's lesbian roommates, Jessie the "irresponsible" one who is looking for her future; and Liz the grad student who is dating a woman who carries around a teddy bear named Amelia Bearhart; and Shannon, Hilton's Great Pyrenees dog, who accompanies her everywhere and is remarkably clear at expressing her opinions. (She's been known to pee on people who are upsetting Hilton.)

Back Talk is an example of what Saxon Bennett does best; She gives readers a fast-paced, funny novel that is delightful to read. She creates the lesbian-centered sit-com that you WISH were on TV, a queer WKRP if you will. Her characterization, especially early in the story, is a little weak and can make differentiating some women confusing. However, the dialogue is quick and witty. The situations range from the outrageous and bawdy -- as when Shannon acquires a large purple silicon pleasure item as a chew toy -- to the touching -- as Amelia Bearhart gets lost (of course), found, and a woman grows as a result. Add a charming romance with some satisfyingly heated exchanges and you too will want to tune in to Back Talk.

-MJ Lowe