Monday, August 24, 2009

Missy by Chris Hannan - 304 pages

Book CoverDol McQueen is a young prostitute living in the Wild West. After a few unlucky mishaps at her boarding house, Dol and a few of the other working girls decide to strike out on their own in San Antonio. During the trip to their new town, Dol unwittingly saves the life of a pimp named Pontius who is on the run with a stolen crate of opium, and that's where her real troubles begin. You see, Dol is an opium addict, and although she would never dream of ingesting the contents of the crate, she knows how much it's worth, and she wants to sell it and use the money to straighten up her life. Although she's not ashamed of the life she leads, the "missy" she's addicted to coats her perceptions and she remains lost in a sort of indifference that keeps her blissfully unaware of her predicament in life. Dol's life is further complicated by her mother, who is perpetually drunk and abusive towards her and all the other settlers in the town. As Dol spends her days trying to stay clear of the angry pimp while trying to cage the opium, she must also attempt to keep her mother from drinking herself to death. When Pontius is set upon by a band of dangerous trackers looking for the opium and forcibly removed from the settlement, Dol and her companions go after him, into the blazing desert, bent on taking the prize. Now the girls must race to find the pimp and the crate before the trackers, Indians or thieves do. But during the harsh trip, Dol must leave the "missy" behind and with clearer perceptions beginning to dawn, she discovers the secrets to her mother's ambitions and desires, and comes to realize just what sort of person she herself really is.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of this book. Despite her bad reputation, Dol was a really fun character to get invested in. She had all the qualities of a great heroine, and the less desirable aspects of her personality made for immersive reading. I found her to be both smart and scrupulous, with a huge capacity for irreverence and humor sprinkled throughout. She seemed to always be plotting, and though many times she ended up with the short end of the stick, the more trouble she got herself into, the deeper I was drawn in. Her morals were relaxed at all times, and she had no problem making sure that she stayed on the very top of the heap, but she did it with heartfelt frankness, and though her convictions were very skewed, she still had them.

Although the book dealt with topics that are sometimes indelicate, there was no real baseness to the story, and most of the sexual endeavors of the lead females were not specifically detailed. In other words, this was not a shocking and dirty book. There were a few violent scenes, but nothing that I would say pushed the envelope. Some of the situations in the book weren't pretty, but the author had a way of writing them with a no-nonsense factuality, and didn't stoop to moroseness and darkness. Lets face it, the lives of a group of prostitutes in the 1800s are bound to be fraught with certain types of ugliness and unpleasantness. The fact that the author wrote with such humor while telling of these unpleasant times made the book a far different experience than what it could have been.

The plot was extremely well done. It was an odd story, full of action and pathos, but it dealt with a side of life that is under-examined and mostly hidden from polite society. And it was fascinating. There was no filler here. Each part of the action followed hot on the heels of the last, and the result was a story that moved along with a great clip and intensity. The story was both rich and playful, and Doll was a unique and entertaining narrator, showing gumption in the ways she both addressed and tackled the problems that seemed to attack her out of the blue. I also wasn't prepared for how funny this book was. I found myself giggling helplessly as some of the more savory details of the plot emerged. Though the writing style wasn't taxing, it also wasn't elementary, and the author employed a great use of irony throughout the book. It was the kind of story that your eyes hungrily gobble, and read frantically to discover the next muddle that this remarkable girl would get herself embroiled in.

I also liked that there were varying degrees of evil in the book. Whereas Dol's mother was a wicked woman who was intent on making her daughter unhappy, her character couldn't even hold a candle to the awfulness of Pontius, who in turn couldn't begin to be as malicious as the people who were hunting him. At times, Dol had to choose between the lesser of these three evils, and other times she was fighting all three at once. There were a handful of very memorable characters in this book, and they were well used to fully round out the narrative.

I was also amused at the relationships she had with the other girls. Though some had her full respect and admiration, others she derided and shunned, which made for some rather lively showdowns, especially towards the end of the book. Dol's addiction problems were also quite interesting. She never seemed to breach a certian level of depravity when it came to the opium, but it was clear that it was running her and not the other way around. There were some interestingly symbolic hallucinations and dream sequences, when Dol would go off into her own world after indulging, and some of them were brilliantly prophetic and fearsome. The ending of the book was completely satisfying, with all the loose ends being tied up nicely in a way that didn't feel forced or trite at all.

I wish this book had been longer. It was a great feeling to be so entertained and amused by Dol and her weird antics, and I would have gladly accompanied her further along her journeys, had it only been written. I think the author did a great job concocting Dol into a very sympathetic and winning character, and his sense sense of plot was magnificent. If you are looking for a really unique reading experience and really like your characters to have a lot of pluck, I would definitely recommend this book to you. It's both character and plot driven, and it has wonderful historical flavor. Remarkably entertaining.


Steph said...

I had never heard of this book before, but it sounds like it was a lot of fun. Sometimes you just really need a book that will effortlessly sweep you away and take you on a wild ride. This sounds like it definitely delivered. I'm going to mentally flag it and keep it in mind for a future library trip!

bermudaonion said...

I've read very few books set in the Wild West. This sounds like a great one to try. Thanks for the review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Don't you just hate when a book you are so enjoying has to come to an end? i do. sounds like a good one; thanks for the review.

Marie Cloutier said...

It sounds like something I would really enjoy- plot and character together. Great review!

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