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General Fiction Review    


The School of Beauty and Charm
By Melanie Sumner
Algonquin Books, 2001
ISBN: 1-56512-286-0



In The School of Beauty and Charm Melanie Sumner has created a perfect blend of humor and satire.

Louise Peppers, the novel's narrator, has a great deal to rebel against. Her father Henry, a businessman, longs for a calm household. Her mother, Florida, has artistic pretensions and Baptist inclinations.  As parents, their goal is to rear socially acceptable, well-educated, Christian children. Louise describes her family as, "... regular white.... We have no rhythm, and when we watch others dance, we tend to blush. Spicy foods burn our tongues .... The whole family avoids discussing sex, politics, and religion, favoring the topic of weather..."

When Louise's younger brother, Roderick, dies from an asthmatic attack, her parents decide their daughter should go into therapy on behalf of the entire family. When her therapist runs away with a client many years his junior and divorces his wife via the U.S. Postal Service, Louise decides running away might be her best option too. For years, her goal has been to attend clown college in Florida. When her parents force her to attend the Maude Wilson College for Women, she decides the time has come to trade her family circus for a real one by hooking up with the Arthur Reese Traveling Show.

At its heart, The School of Beauty and Charm is the story of a family trying to cope with a devastating loss. 

Melanie Sumner, whose short stories have appeared in the New Yorker and DoubleTake, was named as the a regional winner in Granta's Best Young American Novelists competition. The author of one previous book, Polite Society, her short stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the South and Best of the South. With The School of Beauty and Charm, her first novel, Sumner continues to develop a distinctive voice.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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