THE RED HAT CLUB is a tale of long-standing female friendships, Southern style. It celebrates a certain independent mindset based on the delightful poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph, which starts, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . ." George (short for Georgia) tells the story of her gang of fifty-something sorority sisters, who continue to support each other through all trials. These gals, garbed in purple topped with red hats, meet once a month to lunch, gossip and swap jokes.
The story opens with Diane, one of the Red Hat club members, confiding that her husband has a mistress. That's bad enough, but she helped pay for the condo the mistress is ensconced in. The slimy two-timing husband, a distinguished banker, is also involved in some questionable financial dealings. Of course, Diane's friends (all bitterly divorced or terrified of divorce, except for one happily married woman) are enraged. The Red Hatters scheme up a plan of revenge, and set it in motion like hot-flash powered CIA operatives.
The women morph into secret agents, spying on Diane's husband and gathering evidence against him. Woven between chapters detailing the club's undercover skulking are tales of their past. George shares her reminiscences of how the friends met, the adventures they've enjoyed, and the hard times they've endured together. She ponders the mystery of one member of their group, long strayed from the fold. Will they ever find out what became of Pru? George wonders even more about her old boyfriend, Brad. Sizzling memories of their romance eclipse George's lackluster relationship with her husband. She can't help wondering if she should leave her husband and search for her lost love.
The author has a fine, confiding "I'm telling you this" voice, which makes for a fast, easy read. Her dialogue is true to life. She has a wicked sense of humor --- many of her asides and small tales within the main story made me laugh.
However the characters lack depth, verging on stock "types": alcoholic slut, dowdy doctor's wife, perfect-lady-with-a-secret, and devastated wife. Men fare worse than the women, coming off as a huge population of conscienceless sleazeballs, along with a handful of juicy studmuffins.
The frequent detailed flashbacks tend to slow down the story. Appearances of characters from the past, with tidy, instant resolutions, don't further the plot. Conflicts (including the "revenge on the horrible husband" one) are resolved just a bit too easily.
Despite these reservations, I found reading THE RED HAT CLUB akin to watching Friends reruns --- frivolous and predictable, yet mindlessly soothing.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 23, 2011
The Red Hat Club