The Dixie Belle's Guide To Love
by Luanne Jones, contemporary (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81934-1


Southern humor, huh? Coming from this non-American reader whose first thought when she encountered this phrase was "So that's what they're calling dirty jokes nowadays!", Southern jokes and me go together like housework and me - not too well.

But hey, Deborah Smith does it well. But she does her humor with a blend of larger-than-life characters that display an earthy, down-to-earth charm at the same time. Luanne Jones, on the other hand, marinates her Southern humor with an unhealthy dose of lackluster clichés. The Luanne Jones's Guide To Love isn't coming off too well.

Rita Stark runs the Pig Rib Palace, and no, that's not an abattoir where our meat-cleaver wielding, bloody-apron clad dominatrix-slaughterer babe reigns supreme. Hmm, although I may just pay good money for that book. No, Pig Rib Palace is a restaurant to be if you want cholesterol and calories clogging up every one of your blood vessels. An ex-beauty queen (Miss Strawberry Belle, Tristate Teen Dixie Bell Duchess, et cetera), Rita is now a shadow of her former self. Apparently her mother's leaving her two-timing father has affected Rita's genteel nature so much that Rita is now Ms Proper and Nice.

I don't really understand that part. Is it a sin down South in America to leave cheating husbands?

So Rita's husband leaves her. Is this good? What does the Southern Rules Book say? But lucky dog, this hubby Pernel gets to yak off in the prologue, because he's supposed to be the one who knows the most about Rita. Which says a lot about Rita, if you ask me.

Rita needs someone to fix up her restaurant. Her friends seize this opportunity to call back the prodigal son, Will "Wild Billy" West, to schmooze her back into old sassy self.

Is matchmaking the sole obsession of Southern women? Is that it? How scary, and how sad. Is it a sin for Southern women to get a hobby? Like surfing the Net for free porn?

Do Southern people all speak in this strange way? Do Southern men use phrases like "let him get his panties in a wad"? Do Southern men drop the word "panties" often in their conversations? Do Southern women define their lives by the beauty pageant tourneys they've won and how good they are in crooning country tunes?

Because that's what these characters are. Rita is a stereotype. Despite Ms Jones' assertion that Rita is sassy and feisty, Rita is actually a helpless heroine who has to pushed and cajoled into doing things by people around her. Her husband left her the restaurant that she made her life even as he spoils her career as the new Shania Twain by knocking her up when she was a teenager. Will restores her self-esteem, her friends match-make her, and life either sidesteps around Rita or runs over her. Will is the usual hero with women baggages whose sister tells her that he will "find redemption" in coming back to his hometown.

Do Southern women drop words like "redemption" in their conversation often?

The Dixie Belle's Guide To Love isn't quirky, and it's only mildly funny, methinks. The characters are all cardboard clichés with very little use otherwise, and the plot is so transparent in its following the long, well-trodden path to Tritesville. It's that same old blues about boredom and mediocrity, I'm afraid.

Rating: 57


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