By Melanie Sumner
And what a story it is, about how ponderous Henry, hysterical Florida, and hell-bent-for-rebellion Louise, awash in grief after Roderick's death at fifteen, go on living. Steady-at-the-helm, Henry buries himself in his work managing Southern Board, the local cardboard factory. Flamboyant Florida, with a fine-honed knack for losing her cool, redecorates their custom-built house, the Aerie, and takes up painting by numbers. Louise indulges her addictions: at nine, she discovers vanilla extract. After Roderick dies, she adds liquor, food, sex (at sixteen, she seduces a Southern Board laborer), and out-and-out danger, finally, at eighteen running off to join the circus (a carnival, actually). Louise gets to be the clown.
THE SCHOOL OF BEAUTY AND CHARM is a daring novel that walks a fine line between high comedy and real tragedy. But at heart, it is a moving portrait of a father and mother, two good-hearted people doing everything wrong to win back their daughter.