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‘Women in Hats’ Tables turn for mother, daughter

“Women in Hats,” by Judy Sheehan. Random House. 2008. 352 pp. $14 paperback.By Tracy Aitken
For the Salisbury Post
Talk about instant success. First, Leigh Majors has an impressive show business pedigree: Her mother is a Hollywood-starlet turned television star; her father was a commercially and artistically successful director. And now her loving husband, a successful dentist, has written a play. Not only that, but Mom has read the play and has already agreed to star in the production as directed by Leigh. What could be more perfect than that?
One page into “Women in Hats” and you’ll discover that this scenario is anything but perfect as far as Leigh is concerned. Leigh’s mother, Bridie, is an impossibly spoiled star who believes the world revolves around her, and Leigh blames just about everything that has ever gone wrong in her life on Bridie.
At first, the reader has to agree with Leigh ó what a childhood, what a mess! Judy Sheehan’s main character is easy to love, and one winces at how she is strong-armed into doing something she really doesn’t want to do.
Leigh never quite recovers from the shock that her husband not only desires to be a playwright, but he’s not bad. Not good, but not bad enough to keep the play from being produced, particularly with a star willing to headline.
In “Women in Hats,” all the elements are there for the reader to love Leigh and hate her mother.
As this fast-paced novel moves along, however, the author plays a neat trick: The character we love trades places with the character we hate, and by the end Leigh isn’t the sweetheart we thought she was, nor is her mother the villain any longer. Plus, we can almost believe that a dentist wrote a Broadway-worthy show on his first attempt.
Sheehan’s story not only works, it’s difficult to put down; the plot is interesting and energetic, and the twists it takes definitely keep the reader’s attention. I’m not convinced I’d pay to see the dentist’s play, but I’m happy enough to pay for this book.
Tracy Aitken lives and works in Spencer.

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