by Jo Fox, contemporary (1989)
Grafton, £2.99, ISBN 0-586-20561-6
Vernon Jolly died the way he always wanted - spectacularly, while making love. He just happened to "came and went", they say. His widow Jessica Jolly is understandably upset, especially when she wasn't there with him when he croaked.
Casey's Court is the hilarious fictitious diary of Jessica Jolly during the time when she reads the embarrassing news of her husband's infidelity plastered all over the papers to around one year later. It's a mad, fast-paced rush of laugh-a-minute madcap humor, told in great pizazz by Jessica.
If Vernon's infidelity with a peroxide blonde isn't bad enough, she realizes that her husband has left behind a mountain of debts. Her stepson, four-year old Tom is asking embarrassing questions about his "thingie", and her seven-year old stepdaughter Wilhelmina is showing signs of becoming the next spoiled diva of the house.
And when she finds herself hiding from the Avon lady (Jess can't pay the £5.00 she owes the lady), she realizes it's high time she asks for divine intervention.
Dear God, if you're listening, you might consider helping this one of your flock, seeing as the only other favour I've ever asked you was over twenty years ago, when I fell in love with Arthur Askwith. And you didn't do that right, did you? Because, as it turned out, he was only after my stamp collection.
Well, she gets what she wants. She soon gets news that a distant relative she has never even heard of croaked a few months back and left her a property. The trouble is, that property is up north, way up north in rural England. But hey, our heroine's no chicken. She packs up her squabbling kids and her eccentric and big-boned mother-in-law Maggie. Casey's Court, here come the Jollys!
As it happens, the Londoners are in for culture shock. Lots of fun things ensue. Jessica finds out that her "property" is in fact a run-down barber's shop with - horror - the one toilet located outside in the backyard! Their next door neighbors are a pair of lovebirds who engage in loud boinking marathon (watch how she explains to the kids what is going on next door) at one side and a shy old lady Little Larkin who has really chronic case of loud intestinal gas.
There's also Sonya Pitts who becomes Jessica's best friend. She's a buxom blonde whose job description is throwing ice cream at men's wonkies. Sonya's grandfather thinks his granddaughter is taking "archery lessons" with her "men friends" and thinks that Jessica is a spy sent from the town council. Wilhelmina wrecks her school on her first day there, and if that's not bad enough, the family dog Lucky has gone missing.
And when Barney Singleton, handsome and charming, steps in to sabotage Jessica's attempts at reopening the barber shop, oh boy.
Did I mention that the house is haunted by the dead relative, Old Pops?
There's a lot of things happening in CC. Slapstick comedy as well as verbal in-your-face humor fly fast and high, and not all of them are subtle. But it works perfectly: the vulgarity, the eccentric characters, and the stereotypical North-vs-South culture gap are all uproariously hysterical. And it's made even more effective written from Jessica's point-of-view, because this is a woman who tries so hard to be practical even when surrounded by nonsensical happenings.
Witness her observation of an underwear thief prowling around the neighborhood:
There's a knicker-pincher on the loose. There have been several frilly sets taken from various watching lines. The only ones that were left untouched were Big Barbara's from No. 19. Sonya wasn't surprised, though. "I expect 'e thought they were barrage balloons left over from the war," she snorted. Apparently, Sonya and Big Barbara are old enemies. Big Barbara got to hear what Sonya said, and has issued a challenge. It's no holds barred and a fight to the death, outside Charlie's Chipshop at midnight on Saturday.
You don't want to know what happened on Saturday midnight.
I can't really describe every funny laugh-out-loud happenings in CC. Highlights include Jess and Barney's disastrous first date, Sonya's accident in her toilet bowl, Maggie and Granpa Ethelbert Pitt's romance, and Jessica's lessons in barbering from Sonya.
Her first lesson on a mop isn't too bad.
When I'd finished, Sonya took a long thoughtful look at it from all angles. "Well, it ain't bad, considering," she observed, tapping the comb against her teeth as she walked round and round.
I felt quite pleased. "Considering what?" I asked, and was somewhat deflated when she replied, "Considering that if that were a fella, yer'd 'a chopped both 'is bloody ears off!"
But the best part is that underneath all the over-the-top lunacy, there is a heart. No matter what she says about her stepchildren - monsters, both of them! - she obviously loves them and is there for them when they need her. Same for Maggie and Sonya. No matter how everyone steps on each other's toes, when it comes to the bulldozers coming to tear down Casey's Court, everyone stands united. Jessica Jolly, practical, feisty, and trying hard to stay sane when everyone around her seems one step in the loony bin, is one fun heroine indeed!
CC still manages to amuse even during subsequent re-readings. I admit this story is not for everyone - the slapstick, the vulgarity, the over-the-top caricatures can drive some readers nuts. But the caricatures are never done in a mean-spirited way, and I end laughing with, not at these delightful people of Casey's Court.
This is definitely a keeper lift-me-up where I am concerned. Be assured I will always revisit the wonderful Casey's Court - the nutcase town with a heart.
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