Friday, April 15, 2011

Pitifully Ugly by Robin Alexander

Book:  Pitifully Ugly
Author:  Robin Alexander
Publisher:  Intaglio Publications

A few years ago, I spent an afternoon at Ellis Park, a horse racing venue in Owensboro, Kentucky.  It was a typical summer day on the Ohio River, probably in the mid-nineties, with humidity pacing the temperature step for sticky step.  As I recall, it was the fifth race of the day, and my friends were applying their individual parlay philosophies when I looked at the race card and instantly knew I had a winner.  A little, gray, spotted filly named 'Margaret Thatcher'.

Well, heck yeah. I saw that her odds were 52-1, but sometimes you just feel 'it' in your bones.  Big spender that I am, I gleefully thumped my two dollars down on Mags, and sat back to watch the show.  

Well, a better ending would be that she showed the boys how it's done by taking the race in grand fashion.  But in reality, Margaret Thatcher looked and ran like her namesake in a pair of sensible shoes with low heels.   It wasn't pretty, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat, if ever given the chance - someday a Margaret Thatcher out there IS going to win.

Flash forward to 2011.   I was thumbing through the cyber-shelves of one of my favorite publishers, and imagine my giddy delight when I spotted the book called Pitifully Ugly by Robin Alexander!  Much like my Margaret Thatcher moment, I knew deep inside my soul that this book was going to be mineminemine.  I bought it, and put it away for a rainy day.

Let's just say, it rained a whoooooole lot this week.

Pitifully Ugly is the story of Shannon Brycen, a thritysomething  lesbian stuck in a rut.  Her sister, Kalen, has tried fixing her up with women, but each one is worse than the last.  After two particularly bad blind dates, which included cat piss in a shoe and what could have been Lorena Bobbit's long lost sapphic sister, Shannon takes matters into her own hands, she goes on-line.  Of course, it probably wasn't the best idea to write her profile while feeling surly after half a bottle of wine.  Claiming she was 'housebroken" but "rabid", she signed it Pitifully Ugly.  She gets a few creepy replies, but also makes a few promising connections, including Newbie.  At the same time, she meets Hailey and her golden retrieverish dog Fuzzy.

Shannon likes the email back and forth with Newbie, but feels an immediate connection with Hailey.  Both women draw her in, and then back off almost as fast.  Long story short, Shannon finally figures out that Newbie and Hailey are one and the same.  Hailey isn't ready for a relationship, and Shannon likes her enough to try to respect her need for a little space.  Hilarity ensues, and of course, both girls keep running into each other.  The push and pull continues.  Both eventually realize the force of the cosmic pull after Fuzzy gets lost.  It takes a while, but they find the crazy chicken-on-a-stick pooch, have a belated Valentine's day, and then enter into a new phase in their lives, together.

This book was a fantastic read, and I'll tell you right now that it will be one of the first books I go to when I need a laugh-out-loud, feel-good bandaid for my soul.  The concept is simple, but handled brilliantly. Every character in the book has a role that advances the story, and the scenes are tightly written.  The internal and external dialogue is consistent throughout, and Fuzzy's tennis ball was appropriately soggy.

Mm, well, funny thing is, I know what it's like to have a wet tennis ball dropped in your underpants.

I was impressed with the circular nature woven into the story.  For instance, early in the book Shannon is a victim of strap-on interuptus.

I actually laughed so hard my Siberian Husky started yodeling at me.

Anyway, near the middle of the book, Shannon learns that Hailey is going out for drinks with a group of friends that includes Ms. Birthday Strap-on.  Then, in the end, Hailey helps Shannon forge new memories through strap-on compleo.

This was only one example, but we see this sort of thing throughout the book with other people and things - I found that to be a welcome aspect of this storyline.

Like I said, it was simple but complete, no loose threads or dangling plot devices.

I have to say I can't remember the last time a book made me laugh as hard as Pitifully Ugly.  Of course, it seemed like the first third of the book was a riot, the middle had a few chuckles, and the end found another burst of humor.  That part wasn't so consistent, but then again, if the whole thing was a riot then I'm afraid some of the better parts of the story would have been overshadowed by the abundance of mirth.

Sometimes a book just reaches out and grabs you, pins you to the wall, and claims you.  Body.  Mind.  And, soul.  Pitifully Ugly grabbed me with the title, pinned me to the wall with the cover, and claimed me with a simple, sexy, smart, and funny story.

This is the first Robin Alexander book I've read, but if she approaches her other stories with the same wit and gusto, I'll gladly add more of them to my bookshelf.

On a Rainbow Scale, I'll give Pitifully Ugly a 5.7 out of 6 - this was a flat out tilt-o-whirl of fun.

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