By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Book: Patty Jane's House of Curl

In "Patty Jane's House of Curl," there's more to this beauty parlor than meets the eye.

Author Lorna Landvik brings every character to life: Patty Jane; her sister Harriet; handsome Thor and kind, loving Alva, the sisters' first loves; Patty Janes' mother-in-law, Ione, a proud Norwegian immigrant; daughter Nora, who becomes the narrator; and several others, such as manicurist Clyde, who almost get up and walk off the page, they're so lively.

The sisters help each other through terrible tragedies and celebrate some extremely happy moments. Many of their experiences take place at the House of Curl, a small salon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Patty Jane opens the business after her husband disappears and she realizes she must provide for herself and her baby daughter. Her mother-in-law, who's also grieving Thor's disappearance, not only fronts Patty Jane the tuition money for beauty school, but also keeps the shop steadily supplies with tasty Norwegian desserts. (Where are the recipes? Landvik -- and readers -- missed an opportunity here.)

Harriet, musically gifted, entertains customers with her harp playing, everything from Beethoven to the Rolling Stones. She's also a divine singer and plays a mean trumpet, too. But even music can't drown her sorrows over losing Alva, and eventually she turns to the bottle, the way the sisters' parents did.

"Patty Jane's House of Curl" is no light-weight novel, although it reads quickly and contains a heaping cupful of tell-all humor. The characters deal not only with alcoholism and cancer, but also with the changing roles of women and the growth of feminism as the action plays out in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s.

Landvik's writing captivates quickly. She gives readers some really unusual and interesting turns of phrase. For instance, just after purchasing the dress for her planned wedding to Alva,  Harriet lights up yet another cigarette. Her smoking will contribute to her illness, which isn't funny, of course, but this description from much earlier in the book is:

"Her smile would have been as enigmatic and alluring as Mona Lisa's, except for the plume of smoke she expelled from her nose."

"Patty Jane's House of Curl," Lorna Landvik, Ballentine Books, 1995.

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