I picked up a hardcover copy of The Sugar Queen from the bargain section of Borders. Remainders are sad for authors but great for me; books I had meant to read pop into my vision and I can snatch it up for a fraction of the price.
(I will attempt to be happy if/when I have a remaindered book. That means it was published in the first place.)
Sarah Addison Allen‘s first novel, Garden Spells, was a charming novel. It was a quick read but whenever I review my bookshelves and see her novel, all I remember is that I enjoyed it. And sometimes that is enough.
All of her stories incorporate elements of magical realism without tiptoeing into the realm of the surreal. Once a promise is made some men are bound to them by a force beyond themselves. Books appear to a woman when she needs one, even if she doesn’t want one. Scents envelope certain characters and influence others. Emotion can be baked into a pie.
My favorite was the tree from Garden Spells that threw apples; though, of course, you wouldn’t want to eat those apples – do that and you will see your death. Not good.
The Sugar Queen opens with a local waitress Della Lee Baker camping out in Josey Cirrini’s closet. Josey is confused by this but quickly dismisses alerting the authorities when Della Lee threatens to reveal Josey’s secret – a cache of sugary treats, romance novels and travel magazines. A bit flimsy yes, but Josey sees the threat as real and the story moves forward.
Everyone has secrets: Della Lee’s mysterious trip north; Josey loves the mailman and dreams of running away; the mailman is scared of something; Chloe is hounded by those books (a fate I would gladly take); and Josey’s mother has a photograph she looks at every night just to see his hand.
While some secrets were a bit obvious with connections easily drawn, the way the characters circled each other was enjoyable. The Sugar Queen was more about the individual moments that made up these characters’ lives than the linear structure of the plot.
One moment I loved was when Josey went to Della Lee’s house to get some of her things and found a man asleep on the couch.
He was, very clearly, not the kind of man you wanted to wake.
He didn’t have a shirt on and his jeans were unzipped, one hand tucked halfway inside his fly. He had a smug smile on his lips like he knew, even in his sleep, that women all around him were dying from love because he’d taken their hearts and hidden them where they’d never find them.
His muscles indicated he spent a lot of time in a gym. His cheekbones were high and his hair was long and straight and dark. He smelled of alcohol and of something else, like if you took a match to a rosebush. It smelled good, but dark and smoky, and it made Josey feel heady, like she was losing herself in it somehow.
All at once she understood
This was the reason Della Lee left.
Something about that scent of a burning rosebush got me. Metaphors can be tough because they are so easily inappropriate but this one really worked.
It’s a fast read, perfect for a night under a blanket with rain pounding on the window. Especially if you need to believe in something wonderful happening.