Throw six very different women together for a regular pitch-in meal and some gossip and what do you get? THE POTLUCK CLUB, a collaboration between authors Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson, which explores the relationships of women in a small Colorado town.
It's not really about the food. Potluck president and founder Evangeline Benson is single, and surprisingly enough hates to cook. Her well-ordered life is about to tank. When her favorite niece, 25-year-old Leigh, becomes pregnant and jets out to live with her, "Aunt Evie's" life turns topsy-turvy. Nosy 47-year-old Lisa Leann Lambert is new to Summit View and has a plan to revamp the members of the Potluck Club --- complete with Mary Kay makeovers --- and install herself as the leader. Goldie Dippel's marriage of nearly 30 years to the womanizing Jack is in trouble. His affairs are no secret in the small town, especially to fellow potlucker and law officer Donna Vesey. Donna, however, is unsurprised by Goldie's troubles. Her philosophy on the other gender tends toward, "Show me a good man, and I'll show you a woman in drag."
Rounding out the club is "rock solid" Lizzie Prattle and Vonnie Westbrook. Lizzie is happily married to Samuel, and her deaf adult daughter Michelle is a friend of Leigh's. Although Lizzie's life is an open book, Vonnie has a secret past. Vonnie's first husband Joe was killed in Vietnam, and after a difficult delivery, she was told her baby boy was stillborn. No one knew about her marriage and child except her parents. Now, Vonnie loves her second husband and grade school sweetheart Fred, but "he'll never hold a candle to Joe." Vonnie grieves her inability to have more children and compensates by collecting baby dolls (528) plus countless baby kitsch.
The chapters bounce back and forth in first person point of view of each of the six women, while in between chapters, ace reporter Clay Whitefield muses over the state of affairs in Summit View, offering yet another perspective. (Although the characters are distinctly different, their voices tend to sound similar.) There's a few clichés ("If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy) but for the most part, the story is engaging and interesting.
When Pastor Kevin's wife, Jan, discovers she has breast cancer (which he seems rather unemotional about in too many places), the Potluck Club finds that the best seasoning for their group is some prayer. Each character wrestles with a point of tension: Vonnie, her haunted past; Donna, an estrangement from God and an old flame; Evangeline, a desire for romance and a need to reconcile the death of a friend; Goldie's frustration with a philandering husband; Lizzie's desire to understand prayer and how it is answered; Lisa Leann's need for control). Resolution for the characters' difficulties comes as it does in life --- sometimes quickly and neatly, other times more open-ended and messy. A few loose ends dangle for what the authors promise will be a yet-untitled sequel due out in 2006.
Each chapter graphic is a handwritten recipe card with a yummy-sounding dish, from the humble pancake to apple-rhubarb custard pie. (Full recipes are included in the back of the book.) Fans of Neta Jackson's THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP and Lynne Hinton's FRIENDSHIP CAKE should find this an enjoyable read.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on August 1, 2005