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  • Written by Ad Hudler
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  • Written by Ad Hudler
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Written by Ad HudlerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ad Hudler

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On Sale: March 12, 2009
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-307-54713-2
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Welcome to the utterly eccentric world of Selby, Georgia, where the folks sprinkle three things liberally over their daily lives: sugar, religion, and the wicked fun of Southern living.

Margaret Pinaldi is the quiet daughter of a hell-raising abortion-rights advocate who recently died—bequeathing Margaret a house in Georgia. Finally free from her mother’s demanding presence, this transplanted Yankee is finding herself for the first time, courtesy of the Deep South. And, much to her surprise, she likes it.

A former International Dogwood Festival Queen, Donna Kabel once had cute male suitors chase her like hounds to the fox. But all that changed after a car accident left her with a huge facial scar. Now Donna works in the produce section of Kroger. But it seems that the scar that could have cost Donna her inner strength has actually spurred her to reinvent herself.

Thirty-four-year-old Suzanne Parley, the chardonnay-alcoholic wife of a fifth-generation Selby neurosurgeon named Boone, longs to have the most exquisitely decorated house in the affluent Red Hill Plantation community. Childless and directionless, Suzanne suddenly comes up with a bold plan to make her bored husband love her again: she’ll simply fake a pregnancy.

On the eve of this year’s all-important Dogwood Festival, the disparate lives of these three women will converge in a brilliant comedy of Southern manners like none other. With this funny and poignant novel, Ad Hudler joins Fannie Flagg and Adriana Trigiani as one of our best chroniclers of Southern life.

Excerpt

One

By her own choice, Margaret’s workday began at five a.m., about the time that Louis, the janitor, began buffing the terrazzo floor of the lobby of the Selby Reflector. Her job, transcribing four to five hours of thick, middle Georgia patois, required great concentration, and the daily arc of life in the newsroom did not begin until around nine o’clock, when the first reporters, still puffy-eyed from indulgences of the night before, began to mill in. Clutching brown-stained, steaming coffee mugs from Starvin’ Marvin’s, they would walk into the darkened room and find Margaret sitting at her computer, headphones on, her face ghostlike from the glowing, gray light of the monitor. The only sounds were an occasional squawk from the police scanner and the whispering clickety-clack of Margaret’s keyboard.

For three months, Margaret had been editing the new phone-in-and-vent column named Chatter, and in that time it had grown to be one of the most popular features in the Reflector. People quoted it on elevators in the Perry County Courthouse downtown and on the benches outside Johnny Chasteen’s Seafood Shack. Local disc jockeys called it the redneck Internet, quoting it daily with a whoop and a holler. One day, when Margaret was picking up a pair of leather slides she had had resoled at The Peach Cobbler, she overheard a woman say, “Y’all treat me good or I’m gonna call Chatter.”

Anywhere from fifty to two hundred people called the Chatter hotline each day to leave a comment or query at the sound of the beep. They wanted recipes for homemade fried pork rinds. They wanted to know who stole the sofa off their front porch or who could tell them where to find the best barbecue in Perry County. They called to condemn the owners of the new We-Bare-All that had opened up in the old Stuckey’s building on the interstate west of town.

Lonely alcoholics would call in the middle of the night, verbally stabbing at anything that might make them angry: news anchors who talked too fast, teachers’ vacation time, a neighbor’s barking dog, an editorial that frightened them, dishonest refrigerator salesmen, Dillard’s underwear ads. As the first and only Chatter editor, Margaret felt like Selby’s psychiatrist. Despite her newcomer status, she had a feel for this city’s collective values and paranoias, a verbal patchwork quilt composed of nonmatching yet oddly compatible sound-bite squares: Jane Fonda and guns and smoking and Jesus Christ and rude cashiers and chitlins and birth control and kind strangers on the corner of Mulberry and Second.

“ ’Mornin’, Margaret.”

Harriet Toomey walked up and set a pile of manila folders onto her desk, then patted the back of her impeccably tamed silver beehive. Even after three months, Margaret still could not stop staring at Harriet’s hair, voluminous and oblong like the cotton candy she remembered from the Erie County Fair. When she first saw it, she thought, “So this is why it’s called a beehive!” It was easy for Margaret to imagine something going on inside.

The Reflector’s food editor for sixty-one years, Harriet appeared to be about eighty, and she produced on her own an entire page of food news for central Georgia readers every Wednesday. Her column, Thanks for Askin’, answered readers’ questions about the food in their lives, even though for lunch each day Harriet ate Wheat Thins topped with processed cheddar cheese from a can she kept in her desk.

Margaret took off her earphones. “You’re here early today,” she said.

“I’m fixin’ to leave town,” Harriet answered. “I’m goin’ down to Valdosta to see my great-granddaughters, and I got to get these pork recipes done.”

Harriet sat down in the cubicle next to Margaret’s, the only other cubicle in the newsroom free of rebellious, visual declaration. Most journalists seemed to have a burning desire to be noticed and unique and irreverent, and they used their desks to make statements about themselves. Some had pinned up cutouts of comic-book strips with disparaging remarks about some authority figure. There was also a dancing porcelain hula girl on springs, and a bust of Shakespeare entwined with a feathery purple boa. Jason Nohr, the education reporter, kept a headless Barbie on his desk to use as a stirring stick for his coffee. The doll’s legs, permanently stained, appeared to be covered in suntan-colored pantyhose.

“You look tired, Margaret,” Harriet said.

“I was up late, Harriet. My cat’s stuck in a tree behind my house.”

“Oh, no!”

“He’s been up there for five days.”

“Five days!”

Margaret nodded.

“Five?”

“Shouldn’t I be worried?”

Overnight, while dusting Harriet’s desk, Louis had nudged a bookend of gold-painted plaster hands in prayer from its position, and the cookbooks had fallen over and lay on the desk like a row of expired dominoes. Harriet set about pushing them back into place and aligning the spines so they were flush.

“Well,” she said, “everything’s gotta come down some time or other.”

Harriet then shook her head and looked into the air with a quizzical expression, an index finger on her closed lips, as if she were searching for a book on a high shelf. Suddenly, her face lit up.

“Did you call the fire department?” she asked.

“Do they really do that kind of thing? I thought that was a myth.”

“Ben Tuckabee’s cat got up in a tree and they got him down.”

“Good morning, ladies.”

As Randy Whitestone approached, Harriet quickly turned her focus to the pile of folders before her. Margaret realized early on that the new executive editor, with his un-Southern, brusque delivery and the impatient, staccato manner in which he chewed his gum, made Harriet nervous. He also bombarded her with constant requests to add an international flavor to the food page. Randy was a foodie. Harriet would come to work two or three days a week and find hurriedly-torn-out clippings on her desk from Cook’s Illustrated and Saveur, recipes for kimchee and Vietnamese beef soups and low-fat pad Thai. Harriet responded by pinning to the gray fabric walls of her cubicle certificates of appreciation from the Middle Georgia Muscadine Growers Association and the Georgia Pecan Board, among others.

“What deep-fried delicacy are we planning for this week’s food page, Harriet?” Randy asked. He leaned forward, resting his arms on the top ledge of her cubicle.

“Well . . .” Her hands, usually as steady and fluid as a heavy door on hinges, shook slightly as she looked at a press release from the Peach State Pork Council. “See, next week is National Pork Week. I was gonna write up some recipes for pulled pork.”

Randy ignored her, turning his attention to Margaret. “Have you had the barbecue here yet? It’s incredible. Tangy, not sweet like you’d expect it to be. Why is that, Harriet?”

“Sir?”

“What’s the story behind the barbecue in central Georgia? How did it get so tangy?”

“Just always been that way,” she said.

“No, no, no, there’s got to be a reason for it. It’s got to do with ingredients or influence of some culture or something. You need to call a food historian.”

Harriet wrote on her yellow legal pad—Call food historian—in slow, curvaceous letters that reminded Margaret of the young, delicate tendrils of a vine.

“What about next week’s page?” he asked.

For the first time in the conversation, Harriet looked up at him. “I was gonna write a story about an artist in Vidalia who’s makin’ fake food.”

“Fake food?”

“Yes, sir. They call it faux food. He makes polymer fruits and some desserts that look real as can be.”

Randy laughed and started to shake his head. “Why would anyone want to use fake food, Harriet?” he asked.

“For decoration,” she explained. “People like to use fake food in their decoratin’. Like a bowl of fruit out on the counter.”

“But why not use real food?”

“Because it’ll spoil,” she answered.

“That’s okay, Harriet. Never mind. It must be a cultural thing. . . . Did you get that article I put on your desk yesterday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And?”

Harriet stared at the blinking cursor on her screen for a moment. Her chin began to tremble slightly, and her eyes grew shiny with a coating of tears. Finally, she looked up at Randy.

“Mr. Randy,” she blurted. “I just don’t think my readers are gonna wanna read about raw fish.”

“It’s sushi, Harriet.”

“I already write about fish.”

“There’s only so much you can say about fried catfish.”

“There’s no need to get ugly with me.”

“I’m not getting ugly, Harriet. I just know that three hundred Japanese families now call Selby, Georgia, their home. We’ve got to diversify our food coverage to meet their tastes.”

Just two months before Margaret arrived in Selby, the Toyota Corporation opened its newest North American auto assembly plant southeast of town. Along with the executive families relocated from Osaka, nearly twelve hundred workers from a closed plant outside Camden, New Jersey, followed their old jobs south. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the world discovered Selby, Georgia.

In these tumultuous, post-Toyota days—Randy referred to them as A.T., After Toyota—a Japanese grammar school moved into the abandoned Ponderosa Steakhouse on Cusetta Road. Walgreens bought out a local four-generation drugstore chain named Ringleman’s and not only stopped home delivery but replaced the adjacent Hallmark card shop with liquor marts. Natives were boycotting their banks because the new out-of-state owners fired the receptionists and installed voice mail. Selby’s first X-rated video store opened in the old post office on Pio Nono Road. New Yankee parents at Ronald Dunwoody Elementary School started a petition to fire the principal because she refused to abolish the moment of silence that followed the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Four sushi restaurants opened in the affluent, northern part of town, and the Selby roll was born—a marriage of barbecued pork, tempura-fried Vidalia onions, and rice wrapped not in nori but in a ribbon of steamed collard greens. And, for the first time ever, it was possible for Selbyites to get their hair cut and car washed on the Sabbath.

Two months after the Toyota plant opened, the Reflector, a family-owned newspaper that had seen just six publishers, all with the same last name, in its one-hundred-eighty-year history, was sold to Granite-Peabody Communications of Washington, D.C. On the day the sale was announced, they brought in Randy Whitestone, a Pulitzer Prize–winning editor from the Philadelphia Inquirer who, unfortunately for Harriet Toomey, knew the difference between a serrano and jalapeño chili. It was Randy who took the daily Bible verse off the front page. He cut the society column that featured monied Selby enjoying themselves at Sugar Day Country Club. He directed the features editor to include a men-seeking-men and women-seeking-women section on the personals page in the weekend entertainment guide. He started Chatter and hired Margaret, despite his concern that she was vastly overqualified with her master’s in women’s studies from SUNY-Buffalo.
Ad Hudler|Author Q&A

About Ad Hudler

Ad Hudler - Southern Living
AD HUDLER is a stay-at-home dad and author of the novels Househusband and Southern Living. He lives in Fort Myers, Florida, and has visited the Edison home many times. You can reach Ad at his website: www.adhudler.com.

Author Q&A

Ad Hudler and Karen Feldman met in the late 1980s when both worked at The News-Press in Fort Myers, FL and have been close friends ever since. They share passions for writing, cooking and wine. Karen, senior staff writer at The News-Press, contributor to several magazines and travel guides, and co-author of two books on charity fund-raising, discusses Southern Living with Ad.

KAREN FELDMAN: As it did in your first book, Househusband, food plays a prominent role in Southern Living. In fact, there’s hardly a page that doesn’t contain some sort of reference, describing Randy as resembling a stalk of broccoli, likening a scar’s shape to uncooked linguini and a Bible to a raw Porterhouse steak. Where does that come from?

AD HUDLER: My mother was an excellent cook. She introduced me to excellent food at an early age. Food and meal planning play a big part of my life. It’s nothing I do consciously but I am the caregiver for my family. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen so it’s one of the few worlds I know very well.

I’m also a sensual person. I especially notice smells. Maybe I was poisoned in a previous life. Maybe that’s why I smell everything first.

KF: From the outset of Southern Living, there’s an adversarial relationship between mother and child. Ruth Pinaldi’s deathbed letter to Margaret reveals much about their tumultuous relationship. Both Suzanne and Donna have similar conflict in their relationships with parents, as did Linc in “Househusband.” Why are these people so full of angst?

AH: I was raised by a very strong mother. She was the only hell-raising feminist in the eastern half of Colorado. We were boycotting Florida orange juice and Hawaiian Punch, which were against my mother’s agenda because of the spokespeople (Anita Bryant, an orange juice representative, condemned gays; while Mormon siblings Donnie and Marie Osmond pitched the punch and Mormons were working to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment). My mom is a wonderful parent and wonderful woman, but as with every child who has strong parent, I still find myself struggling for independence.

KF: Let’s talk about the role gender plays in both of your novels. In Househusband Linc is a stay-at-home dad who gets in touch with his feminine side. Many male authors have trouble writing from a female perspective yet you chose to delve deeper still into the female psyche with a book in which the three main characters are all female. What were you thinking?

AH: Women are more interesting creatures than men. Women are more complex. They express themselves better. They’re not as linear in behavior and the way they process information. They are tuned in to subtle nuances. That makes them more interesting.

But my next book will be written in the male first person. I need a break.

KF: Were there any aspects of writing from a female perspective that gave you particular trouble?

AH: The only parts that were hard for me were writing about makeup and the research I had to do to describe what a female orgasm feels like. My wife, Carol, helped a lot. I really had to get deep into girly land for the sex scene. It was the hardest thing to write in the book, harder than moments of epiphany -- and they’re really hard. It’s easy to make people go ‘ewww’ when writing sex.

I also had to find out what a woman sees in a man. I asked a lot of my friends and my mom always shared that sort of information with me.

KF: Is there a moral to the story?

AH: I don’t think so. I don’t like to give a moral for readers. I think it’s kind of heavy handed.

But themes are good — they’re more subjective. It does have a theme. It’s about tumultuous change in life, the microcosm of each woman and the macrocosm of Selby in general and what they’re going through. It’s about the effect of a new foreign influence on people and reacting to potentially frightening elements. In terms of evolution, they must change and adapt or die. In each woman’s case, they survive. That’s what I like about the story — all three women are at a loss yet they all come out on top.

KF: I notice that the black characters have minor, mostly subservient roles in relation to the white ones in the book. Was that intentional?

AH: At first, I was concerned about the lack of black culture in the book, but the story is about, for the most part, the affluent white South, and blacks are absent from the affluent white South except for housekeepers and hired men. There are lots of books about the South and about race. There are people more qualified than I to write those. This was a book about class. One thing I was amazed at while I lived in the South was that Southerners seem preoccupied more with class than race and, in that respect, the region’s British roots are still very evident.

KF: Southern Living contains many funny, even bizarre, moments — such as the heart-shaped potato and the colloquial Chatter items -- yet there’s a lot of serious subject matter, too, about class differences, honesty, love and ethics. How do you take such diverse subjects and meld them into one story?

AH: I think people like to laugh but I think people also want to think. I think you can write a funny book that has depth and is provocative and makes you feel deeply about things. When people tell me my books are funny, that’s good. Making people laugh is a great thing. But I’m also pleased when someone says that it’s something with deeper meaning.

KF: You began your writing career as a journalist, albeit one drawn to offbeat subjects, such as the love lives of lizards and why single shoes wind up on roadsides. What caused you to change genres? Do you find your newspaper and magazine experience help you as a novelist?

AH: I was drawn to fiction because I was home taking care of a child and it was the kind of writing I could do in the wee hours of the morning. Being a journalist has helped me a lot in that journalists are armchair anthropologists. They’re taught to scrutinize and look at culture from afar. It’s been very helpful for me.

I also know how to meet deadlines. My editors love me because I hand everything in on time. You’d be shocked at how many writers who haven’t been journalists are always late.

KF: One technique you used as a journalist seems evident in both books. You draw the reader an intricately crafted world, created from lots of small details woven into the narrative. What attracts you to them?

AH: I’m obsessed with visual details. I really, truly believe the details people surround themselves with -- whether they use an electric toothbrush, the kind of car they drive, what they cook for breakfast -- these things are more telling than what a character will say because frequently what we tell others are wonderful little lies. I like including details about characters because it lets the reader decide for him or herself very slowly what that person is like. It’s dropping little details along the way like cookie crumbs.

Sometimes I get in trouble for using brand names but, frankly, I live in 21st century American culture and we’re a very brand-oriented society. It makes the writing more visceral, more real.

KF: Given the fact that you were a stay-at-home dad and primary caregiver while your wife successfully scaled the corporate ladder, it’s not difficult to see where the inspiration came from for Househusband. What was it that motivated you to write about women of the Deep South?

AH: Southern Living was actually the first book I started to write. I was inspired by the beauty and weirdness of Macon, Ga. It was the first time I had lived abroad. It was a culture I found fascinating because of its gentility, its attitudes about gender behavior, its openness in discussing racial issues, its food, its plants. I hope to live in the South again sometime.

KF: You’ve always been a voracious reader, seeking out esoteric titles and challenging writers. What authors do you find most influential and inspirational?

AH: I like Margaret Laurence, Anita Brookner, Robertson Davies. I have an affinity for Canadian writers. I think they are deeper, more thoughtful. They remind me of the older Russian writers.

The books I read are usually much more high-brow literature than I’m capable of writing. I would love to write a book like How Green Was My Valley -- which is one of my favorite books of all time -- but I can’t. Not yet, anyway.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Ad Hudler and Househusband

“Winning . . . [A] breezy comic outing.”
—The New York Times

“You’ll think it’s a man’s world until you read Househusband, Ad Hudler’s hilarious debut. It will make you laugh, cry, and eat—move over Martha Stewart: wait until you taste his tortellini!”
—ADRIANA TRIGIANI
Author of Big Stone Gap

“[An] engaging debut . . . With self-deprecating humor and adroit expression, Hudler delves deep into the American psyche of gender roles. . . . The dialogue rings with authenticity.”
The State (Columbia, SC)

“A funny and insightful book . . . Should be required reading for men who wonder what their wives do all day.”
—LORNA LANDVIK
Author of Patty Jane’s House of Curl


Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Food plays a prominent role in the lives of each of the three main characters. Discuss those relationships, their similarities and differences.

2. The theme of religion is woven through the book, too. Margaret has an aversion to it, after countless run-ins with anti-abortion activists. Donna’s father hammers it home to her but she, too, remains a religious outsider. How does religion shape the two women’s lives?

3. Selby, a sleepy old Southern town, is in the midst of a transformation with the sale of the newspaper to a big Northern chain and the influx of Asians and Northerners who have relocated to work at the Toyota plant. Discuss what those changes are and the positive and negative effects.

4. Donna and Margaret seemingly come from different worlds. Donna is a home-town Southern girl, a high school graduate who strives to fill her homemaker mother’s role in her domineering father’s life. Margaret grew up fatherless, has a master’s degree and was raised in the North by a well-educated, feminist mother. What is it that makes them bond despite those differences? Conversely, Suzanne and Donna have quite similar backgrounds yet never develop much of a relationship. Why?

5. Margaret, Donna and Suzanne all undergo change. Discuss what their metamorphoses have in common and what’s different? What role do men play in each one’s transformation?

6. Does the fact that Margaret doesn’t know who her father is play a part in how she views men?

7. What role does makeup play in Donna’s life? If she’d had her scar repaired early on, might she still have been so driven to become a supermarket success?

8. Which character do you find the most interesting? Why?

9. In her letter to Margaret, Ruth Pinaldi tells her: “If you choose to be a gentle breeze for most of your life, also remember there will be times that call for the roar of a hurricane — and you must blow the bastards away. History does not remember the ‘good girls.’” Do you agree? Why or why not?

10. Randy is a well-educated Northerner who loves fine food, which initially appears to give him much in common with Margaret. Why then does she turn away from him in favor of Dewayne?

11. What role does race play in the book? Are Boone and his Sugar Day Country Club peers racist or is the club all white because blacks and whites are more comfortable with that arrangement?

12. The Chatter items sprinkled throughout the book change in tone and nature as the plot progresses. Discuss those differences and what they appear to show. What purpose do they serve?


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