Meet the Larksdale Ladies Investment Club: A book review
Minnesota, mid-80s, mid-life ladies come into their own, with comedy, guts, and wit.
Around this time of year every respectable magazine and Sunday newspaper makes lists for summer reading.
I’m semi-respectable and I, too, have a beach book to tell you about.
- I read a lot. Really, a lot.
- I’m fussy. Really fussy.
My idea of a perfect day is plunked in a beach chair with a good book. The beach chair is set at ocean’s edge, and the book should be so good, yet foamingly lightweight in its entertainment value, that if the tide comes in the reader might not notice it until a wave rears back and slaps feet.
- a novel with believable characters
- a novel with unpretentious writing style
- paperback, so if the tide does come in, it’s not the loss of a precious first edition
- paperback, so a little suntan oil gets absorbed nicely
- paperback, because it’s light, what with all the other stuff one has to schlep to the beach
Ladies with Options by Cynthia Hartwick meets all the criteria and more. The kernel of the plot revolves around a news item you might remember. A group of ladies started an investment group and supposedly did Very Well. They wrote a few books and got a lot of publicity. As it turned out, they didn’t do quite as well as the hype would have us believe, but that doesn’t matter when we turn to fiction.
The truth about fiction is that a new world is created...much like our world, but with a kind of neat structure and flow. The author can make events turn inside out, upside down, and walk down any crooked path she feels like following.
The narrator of the book is a smart mouthed young lawyer, the daughter of one of the ladies in the Mostly Methodist Club near Minneapolis. The Mostly Methodists are woman of a certain age, from thirty-five to sixty-five, who meet on Saturday mornings at a round robin of houses, primarily to eat baked goods.
The novel opens in 1983 and spans ten years. One of the women mentions an article she read that scared her. Most people will not have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. By the end of that particular Saturday meeting the Mostly Methodists have become the Larksdale Ladies Investment Club, resolving to learn about the stock market. They’ve decided to become Players.
Along the way we are treated to observations about men, marriage, and mid-life in the Midwest, with humor, spirit, and just enough tension to keep those pages turning.
Larksdale is a one industry town, and manufacturing has fallen on hard times. What if the company moves to Mexico?
The Ladies also ‘host’ a pink haired young woman who is on probation for trashing a bad boyfriend’s frat house room. Skye is very interested in computers, which becomes handy. What if computers ‘catch on?’
Sophia, the daughter lawyer, spends her 20s in town with a local firm, as counsel to The Ladies while her classmates are off in big cities. Life seems to be passing her by as she becomes involved with the Ladies’ lives. What if she only listens to other women’s woes?
“[I] developed the instant theory that all men, at some advanced age like fifty, reach a point where food interests them more than sex. You could graph it like a biz-school chart: over time the sex interest line plunges while the food interest line rises. Where the lines cross is the technical onset of middle age: if men were stocks, that’s when you’d sell them.”
Watch as each chapter features one of the Ladies coming into her own: two librarians on the loose, the beauty parlor owner, the housewives, the widow. Even the narrator might find love, despite her romance resistant ways.
Sophia is showing an old male friend around her town.
“Come on,” I added. “I’ll buy you lunch.”
“Great! I saw a little diner about three miles back, off the freeway. I can try native Minnesota cuisine.”
“Native Minnesota cuisine,” I said, “is lutefisk in dill butter sauce. It would kill a goat.” I drove us eight miles back to the Black Angus.
Other than the steaks at the Black Angus, no animals are harmed in this book. No woman is a junkie or has a drinking problem. Almost no one swears. But somehow the author treads a rare line of writing gutsy, contemporary prose without all the cheap shots we are used to.
What a terrific movie this would make. Likely the entire cast of Steel Magnolias could be moved north and try a different accent...but Julia Roberts has enough work.
Heck. Ladies With Options is the movie I would love to produce, if I were a member of the Mostly Methodists with a strong portfolio. Neve Campbell with pink hair. Debra Messing (Will and Grace) as Sophia. The Ladies: Tracy Ullman, Frances McDormand, Laura San Giacomo, Lily Tomlin, Shelly Duvall, Swoozie Kurtz. Tom Hanks with a cameo at the end. But I digress...
Try it. You’ll like it. If you aren’t headed for the beach, try the porch swing. You are a Lady With Options.