Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Perfect Ten: THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS by Dorthea Benton Frank

THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS - Dorthea Benton Frank
A Perfect 10
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-089239-5
ISBN-10: 0-06-089239-0
March 2008
General Fiction
Manhattan, New York and Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina – The Present

Since her divorce, Miriam Elizabeth Swanson has not only lost her husband, Charles, and most of her socially prominent friends, but it has also led to her estrangement from her two grown sons. There is no doubt her life has changed. Miriam wallows in her misfortune. Besides being left for a much younger trophy wife, Charles had already fathered two children with his whore before the divorce! He left Miriam financial strapped, forcing her to live in one of the three apartments that had formerly composed her family home. Plus…all her married life she had volunteered for many causes. Now her standing as a volunteer has dropped to the bottom of the New York socialite pecking order. She is receiving only the most unpleasant volunteer jobs. Rejection, humiliation, jealousy and anger have taken their toll. Miriam is priggish, snide, judgmental and enormously unhappy. Her best friend is Kevin, one of her renters. Kevin Dolan is a confirmed bachelor and the visual display manager at Bergdorf Goodman, but he is understanding, full of advice, fun and an extremely good friend. The one who stays true through troubled times. The second apartment in the house has recently become available again, and Miriam and Kevin are vetting renters. Their choice, a young woman named Liz, will bring profound changes to Miriam’s life.

On a visit to Sullivan's Island, her mother tells Miriam to stop blaming everyone else for her problems and to take charge of her own life. Josephine was also once a socially prominent woman, but she now chooses to live a hippie’s ‘green’ lifestyle at the family’s summer home. Easy to say when her mom seems to be having an affair with a man about Miriam’s age. Harrison Ford is handsome and peaks Miriam's interest, but what daughter would take her mom's man? Harrison creates a change in Miriam’s life, too, nicknaming her Mellie.

Before she accepts that softer, happier-sounding name, Miriam faces one more cathartic moment back in New York. The fallout from that last devastating humiliation and her reaction to the woman who caused it, will change Miriam in dramatic ways.

The ‘mango sunsets’ in the title is from what Mellie’s mother and father called the sunsets on Sullivan's Island. Those glorious, colored skies that astound you and make you feel God’s artistry. Now we know that those colors are usually caused by pollutants in the air, but what a perfectly beautiful metaphor for a well-lived life. Certainly Mellie has her share of pollutants to color her life’s skies, but as she sorts through the garbage cluttering her soul, she somehow becomes so very, very real.

THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS is a near perfect read. The contrast between the settings of New York and Sullivan’s Island is real and subtle, as are the characters who inhabit these places. The humor is wacky. Even in her unhappy, snide moments, Miriam’s quips are funny and what we all want to say at just those moments. She never entirely gives up these comments; they just become less vitriolic and even funnier. As Mellie shows us, change only offers new opportunities, but we have to choose to take them to make our lives mango sunsets. Fine prose and dialogue, an eloquent style, interesting characters and a superb heroine earn THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS Romance Reviews Today’s Perfect 10.

Robin Lee

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