In the opening chapter of CLUB SANDWICH, Ivy Schneider is off and running... her mouth.
"No one's ever accused me of being balanced. If childhood maps out future beliefs and actions, it's no wonder I veer to the right when walking down the sidewalk. If I spin, I twirl right. If I dance, my right foot leads. Perhaps my left-handedness dictates this bent, but I know better. I even look conservative with my understated pageboy, my Keds, and my sundresses. Now if I chose orthopedic sandals, I'd look like a member of PETA. And dreadlocks on this stark white woman? That might land me a delegate position to the Democratic National Convention."
In this rambling narrative style, Ivy continues to wax reminiscent about the Cold War, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian church, her mom's virtues, Stephen Tyler, and hot baths. In one fell swoop, author Lisa Samson provides a neatly developed character whose life is anything but. She's a mother of three, part-owner of the family's restaurant, and a columnist for the local paper. Her mother is elderly, her no-good father only comes around for free meals, her brother is a womanizer, and her sister is self-absorbed. Oh yeah. And her husband is never home. For the last three years he's spent ten months of the year on the road as a singer.
"I'm a little mad right now," Ivy tells us, also still in the first chapter. "I haven't heard from my husband, Rusty, in three days. Granted, he's busy singing tenor for a traveling gospel barbershop quartet, Heavenly Harmonies, but would it be so hard to turn on the blinkin' cell phone before the concert begins and just say hi?
Frankly, I'll take anger over dear any day. At least anger buffs you up.
Lemons out of lemonade. Hmm Well, let's see now. Three days incommunicado may just equal that new light fixture I want for the front porch. Oh yeah. Drink up, Rusty. I just won this one."
Ivy may have "won" that one, but her busy (and lonely) life is quickly stretched to the breaking point. Her mother falls and begins to suffer from dementia, so she moves in with the Ivy brood. Then the no-good dad needs a place to stay. And, wouldn't you know, so does Rusty's dad. Before you know it, Chez Schneider is a glorified boarding house and Ivy finds herself firmly sandwiched between serving the needs of her parents and the needs of her children.
It's from this predicament that the book derives its name. Samson says she was inspired to write the book, in part, because she too was caught in this sandwich for four years. But while Ivy does form a support group of women in similar situations, these characters remain in the margins, probably to the detriment of the book. It would have been nice to see and know more of them. As it is, the major players are Ivy and her family members. And Mitch, the old flame she considers reigniting in her husband's absence.
Some will find the narrative flow, which often resembles an ongoing dialogue between Ivy and herself, engaging. I found it scattered, an inadequate shortcut to character development. But the topics that CLUB SANDWICH tackles --- adultery, economic strain on marriages, caring for parents and kids, handling adult siblings, etc. --- are especially pertinent to many women today. Figuring out how to be a servant without getting stepped on is tricky, and Samson explores these tensions with compassion and humor.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on November 13, 2011