June Park,
The Bingo Queens of Paradise
(HarperCollins, 1999)

If you've ever longed to delve head-first into the big-haired, over-rouged, trailer-dwelling population of rural Oklahoma, this book is for you.

Darla Moon, fashion designer and Paradise, Oklahoma native, wants out. After living with her ex-prostitute mother, hypochondriac sister and closet nudist grandmother for her entire life, escaping to the streets of New York City to try her luck as a designer seems to be the safer of her two options. When the Rev. Spirit E. Jackson is appointed as a travelling preacher for the Lamb of God Penecostal Church across from her mother's house, his entrance into her life tosses a kink in her plans. As she finds out, it's not the only kink that lays in wait for her.

This is one of those rare books that, while you read, you can literally see the plot unfold in your head like a movie. Park's descriptions and use of small-town color make the characters lifelike and their actions leap off the page like old friends that you (intentionally, perhaps) haven't seen in a long while. I laughed out loud (drawing strange looks from the other airline passengers at my elbow) and felt strongly with Darla as her life spiralled out of control. A few times, I could swear I could even smell the macaroni and cheese in the distance -- or at least smell the bright red nail polish her mother lacquered her talons with.

It's hard to describe more of the plot of this book without giving too much away. From the opening scene with Darla, her sickly sister, her outrageous mother, and Paradise's very own lesbian fortuneteller couple in a church-sponsored bingo hall, the novel winds around itself and reveals with a liberal dose of humor what life can be life in modern backwater America. Park masterfully delivers a convoluted plot with all its twists and turns, which achieving the ultimate goal -- to entertain and amuse the reader.

I wouldn't be surprised to find this novel as a movie in a few years. As almost always happens, the book will likely be better than the film, and I encourage you to read it now, before the Hollywood moguls have their way with it. Currently available only in hardcover, it is well worth the $22 (U.S.) price tag. Perfectly suited for curling up with on a grey autumn day, The Bingo Queens of Paradise is a diversion with enough teeth to carry the caricatured sarcasm and will leave you wanting more.

Even if that means travelling to Oklahoma to find the perfect red nail polish or winning bingo card.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]



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