Angela Hunt is one of the most prolific and enjoyable inspirational novelists writing today. So it’s no surprise that DOESN’T SHE LOOK NATURAL? is an entertaining and thoughtful read, and a promising beginning to a new series.
Hunt’s story revolves around Jennifer Graham, a middle-aged working mom whose high-powered husband has just left her for the attractive and younger nanny. Devastated by this turn of events, Graham is forced to sell her home just outside Washington, D.C., leave her career and take her two young boys to live-in with her widowed mother. When an uncle dies and leaves Jennifer a sprawling Victorian house in Florida, Jennifer sees it as a chance to get back on her feet financially. She soon discovers that the house is also a business…and not just any kind of business.
The beautiful Victorian pictured on the Internet is actually a rambling wreck (think “money pit”) and a long-time mortuary --- Fairlawn Funeral Home --- that has served the citizens of the small town of Mt. Dora for years. To sell it, Jennifer, her boys, her mother Joella and their Jack Russell terrier move to Mt. Dora for the summer. At least that’s the plan. Jennifer tells herself she’ll fix up the old house and sell it so that she has a financial cushion until her husband comes to his senses and returns to the family.
Of course, readers will see a lot of what’s coming, but that makes it no less enjoyable to get there. As Jennifer meets the funeral home’s on-site mortician, Gerald Huffman (a wise mentor-ish sort of man who continues to live in the house as the book progresses), and navigates single-parenting and her relationship with her mother, there is plenty to keep audiences involved. One particularly odd twist toward the end of the book will require readers to suspend their disbelief (even if it could happen in real life, it is still difficult to believe), but the overall result is an enjoyable, entertaining read.
One of the interesting minor themes in the book is a glimpse into the Red Hat Society, a feisty older women’s club. A particularly good scene in the novel features the funeral of a member of the Red Hatters; it is full of quirky and offbeat moments, as well as poignant ones, just as most real-life funerals are.
Hunt does a competent job portraying the relationships between middle-age daughters and their mothers, and the tensions of both generations with each other. As the story unfolds, Joella is able to be more honest with Jennifer about her own relationship with her husband, Jennifer’s father. She learns to strike a better balance between being an interfering mother and grandmother and becoming an understanding and supportive parent. Jennifer is also able to acknowledge the importance of her mother’s role in her family, especially with an absent husband. Most interestingly, I thought, was that Hunt portrays Joella as an independent woman with interests outside her immediate family and a desire to continue to live life on her own terms, while still being available for her daughter.
Plenty of details about the funeral home industry, the inner workings of mortuaries and the families who live in funeral homes show that Hunt did her research. Details about the challenges of moving from the east to the humid tropics of Florida, Hunt’s home state (and a place she has set many of her novels), are also a good backdrop to the plot. Many of the characters are only lightly sketched, but this is expected, perhaps, for the first installment of a series. Deeper character development is likely on the way.
Hunt fans won’t want to miss DOESN’T SHE LOOK NATURAL? Those new to her novels will discover here what makes her stories so palatable.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011