Thursday, September 6, 2007

Date Night Club

Saxon Bennett
Bella Books
9781594930942 $13.95

Meet Chris McCoy, a charming, neurotic lesbian mail carrier living in Albuquerque, N.M., and member of a group of middle-aged lesbian friends who find themselves single, AGAIN. They decide to commit themselves to finding not just a lover-for-the-moment but a "perfect mate." Thus they form the "Date Night Club" where "Instead of letting love fall to chance, they would research it, explore all the places where it might lurk or frolic and nail it to the wall of each of their futures" (40).

The club members are an eccentric mix of women who provide a great deal of heart and humor on their "quest" for love. There is Bernadette Chevez Maestas, known as B., a high-energy and highly successful realtor with a physique akin to Dolly Parton's. Sarah K. Roswell is the pastry chef/business woman behind a well known line of creme puffs available in upscale groceries. Sarah calls herself "Midge" because as a Little Person, she feels she might as well control and embrace her identity with disarming, self affirming humor. Luce is the resident bohemian-earth-mother-artist-type who works in large scale stained glass and may still be grieving her late lover. And Amadeus, a tall, blue-eyed, red-haired German Amazon, runs The Zoo, a hip restaurant that's popular with "club members."

The group makes monthly forays dubbed "date night" that include volunteering at the local pride-fest picnic and attending a book group sponsored by the local women's bookstore. In the latter scene, Alex Taylor, the author of the month's selection, is in attendance because she hopes for feedback from readers. (Her book, titled "The Heiress," bears a striking resemblance to the story line of Bennett's book Talk Back.) Particularly amusing is the hot seat on which the author finds herself when her literary use of pickles is criticized by two very uptight feminist readers. The discussion that results is bizarre and hilarious. While no reader should assume an autobiographical origin to any novel, one can not help but wonder if Bennett is exorcising some particular experience with this wickedly funny scene. Alex Taylor's rather plaintively confused comment, "The pickle heiress was meant to be funny," (75), says it all.

Date Night Club is a very fine example of what Saxon Bennett does best: She creates a funny, charming and very human ensemble cast of lesbians, then carries her readers through an arc of challenge and growth with them. I laughed out loud several times, especially in regard to B.'s type A dominating, if well meaning, approach to orchestrating not only her own life but those of her good friends. The scene with the duct tape still gets me to smile.Dog people will love The Pipster, who makes Lassie look ill-trained, and the flyball games. Date Night Club is one of the funniest books I've read in a very long time, and is in my opinion the best of Bennett's many charming novels, in that her characters are so clearly defined and articulated from the very beginning, making the story a pleasure to follow. Give Date Night Club a try, you might not find your true love, but you're sure to enjoy the evening.

-MJ Lowe