This week’s Book Report is all about American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Preserving Your Assets (Simon & Schuster, 2009) by Jill Conner Browne. This latest installment from the infamous Sweet Potato Queen is a return to form. (Browne dabbled in fiction with 2006’s The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel: Stuff We Didn’t Actually Do, but Could Have, and May Yet, she returned to embelished non-fiction with 2008’s The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit.) Thighs is Browne in all her glory, talking about big hair, big butts and the pros and cons of aging.
Of exposing her teenage daughter (and daughter’s friends) to the realities of sun damage, she writes, “…I’ll hear them clumping and giggling down the stairs in their sandals and sunglasses, all set to sun themselves by the lake. I jump out in front of them, lifting my calf-length old-lady-version-of-a-sundress high above my crinkly, wrinkly, baggy, saggy knees—and higher still, exposing a great expanse of enormous, quivering, gelatinous THIGHS, and I say, ‘THIS, little girls, is what YOU’RE gonna GET if you don’t start paying attention NOW!’”
She ends with, “If I can save even one young woman from those THIGHS, I will not have lived in vain.” Honestly, I’m surprised Browne doesn’t quip, “I will not have lived in vein”—it would be a nice jumping off point for a treatise on varicose veins and very much in keeping with Browne’s self-effacing and often over-the-top humor.
Thighs suffers a bit from a lack of focus. Subjects are handled stream-of-consciousness and dispatched more often with witty banter than with substantive arguments. There’s an overriding triteness at times, but then again, Browne’s fans are well aware of her style. And, since aging, children, marriage frustrations, Murphey’s Law and cellulite happen, the attitude of laughing so you don’t cry might be the best policy.
But Browne doesn’t only pick fun at her own issues—she often unleashes her sharp tongue society at large. On Bo Derek’s cornrowed hair in the 1979 film 10: “By the time you read this, it will have been a good thirty YEARS since that movie was released, and STILL TODAY, at least 78 percent of all tourists to tropical locales will come home with their hair in a Bo-Do and absolutely 100 percent, if not more, of them will look like complete morons.”
Well put. Thighs is filled with such zingers. A reader less familiar with the Sweet Potato Queen’s affable-if-rambling style might get lost in the many asides and wandering anecdotes, but plumbing this prose for Browne’s Southern-fried is often worth the effort. The book offers up a sense of girl-power, a kind of “I’m okay, you’re okay”-ness and a quirky take on the issues all women face.
And it’s not all self-deprecating. Strikingly tall in high school, and having to comply to the rule of skirts no shorter than four inches above the knee, Browne triumphed. She writes, “Fortunately, Mama was able to SOMEHOW—by sheer force of will and I’m sure not a little intimidation since she was also an Amazon and the principal was, well, he was NOT SO tall—negotiate for me a reverse hemline restriction that was based on a ratio of skin to skirt. I was allowed to show an equal PERCENTAGE of thigh compared to my more compact classmates.”
If you’ve made it to this point in my review, you’ve probably notice that Browne’s quotes are peppered with words in ALL CAPS. This is the author’s prerogative—one I’ve railed against since the first time I reviewed a Sweet Potato Queen book. But, as successful as Browne is, and as willing as her editors and publishers are to print words and phrases in ALL CAPS, I have to think there’s something to it.
Jill Conner Browne comes to Malaprop’s (on her fabulous pink tour bus) on Thursday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. A catered reception follows. Info: 254-6734.
— Alli Marshall, A&E reporter