Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne

The Sweet Potato Queens, via
Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1999

It's about:  "To know the Sweet Potato Queens is to love them, and if you haven't heard about them yet, you will.  Since the early 1980s, this group of belles gone bad has been the toast of Jackson, Mississippi, with their glorious annual appearance in the St. Patrick's Day parade.  In The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, their royal ringleader, Jill Conner Browne, introduces the Queens to the world with this sly, hilarious manifesto about love, life, men, and the importance of being prepared.  ... From tales of the infamous Sweet Potato Queens' Promise to the joys of Chocolate Stuff and Fat Mama's Knock You Naked Margaritas, this irreverent, shamelessly funny book is the gen-u-wine article." (back cover)

I thought:  You know, sometimes I don't notice or I'm not terribly annoyed when a person is being a little sexist if they're also being really funny and I get that it's not serious.  I mean, if an actual person is standing right in front of me saying mildly offensive things, I'll usually give them the benefit of the doubt and laugh at their jokes in the name of social nicety (within reason).  Making everyone in the room feel uncomfortable over a small or imagined slight wouldn't really do anything for the progress of feminism, and besides!  I just don't have a confrontational personality.

But books (and movies, and celebrities) get no such special treatment from me.  I will probably always be annoyed by books that exploit gender stereotypes and paint men and women rigidly, even if the goal is hyperbolic amusement.  I understand that lighthearted sexism is supposed to be funny.  But I'm not laughing when I know I've still got 200 pages to go.  Two hundred pages is a lot of time to spend with somebody who doesn't share your sense of humor.  So I'm not sure why I ever picked up this book.  I do consider myself a fan of Southern humor and Southern writing and Southern story telling.  And The Sweet Potato Queens do fit in that category and do some things well.  I did laugh aloud several times:  I loved Ms. Browne's Possum Under the Bed story, I liked her phonetic spellings of certain Southern words and phrases (see Favorite Excerpt below), and I LOVED reading her descriptions of and recipes for a few beautifully fattening foods.  She has some genuinely wise words to impart (humorously, of course).  And the mentions of "off brand" evangelists made me chuckle, as did the legit, hilarious obituaries.  This book IS funny, and I'll bet if Jill Conner Browne were to read this review she'd just shrug because some Yankee Feminist doesn't "get" her.  I'm pretty sure my cranky criticisms would roll right off her back.  I would probably have enjoyed a non-love-themed book more.

I'm not going to tell anyone to avoid this book, and I'm not going to warn you that you'll be terribly offended if you pick it up.  But it is very silly, and overall I didn't really think it was worth my time.  If you want to read something Southern and humorous, pick up some Celia Rivenbark instead or Julia Reed's Queen of the Turtle Derby.  And if you want something Valentiney, go back in time and read our posts from 2012 (They Call Me Naughty Lola) and 2011 (Are Feminism and Romance Mutually Exclusive in Literature?).

Verdict: In Between.  On the lower end of the category.

Warnings: Raunchy humor, a few swears.  And, like I said, sexism.

Favorite excerpts:
"'He-e-e-ey!  Cuteshoestellyoumamahi!'
That is the gist of most conversations in the state of Texas.  In Mississippi, a lot of conversations go like this:
'He-e-e-ey!  KewtshewsyewthenkOleMissgonweeun?'
(If you were born north of the Mason-Dixon line, you probably can't imagine what's being said.  I suggest that you read each line aloud several times, sounding out the syllables phonetically until the words register.  This would be a good preparatory exercise if you ever plan to visit the South.)"

What I'm reading next:  Moloka'i by Alan Brennert