there's a slight chance i might be going to hell: a novel of sewer pipes, pageant queens, and big trouble by Laurie Notaro
There are few things in life as fun as randomly stumbling upon a book that turns out to be a really good read (at least for this English nerd). This book was one such serendipitous find. It's among the booty I picked up at the thrift store on my visit to Harrisonburg and once started, I kept my nose buried in it every free moment I could scrounge, until I finished it the next day.
Maye Roberts leaves her friends in Phoenix behind to follow her husband's career to Spaulding, Washington, where he is the new assistant English professor at a small rural college. Spaulding is a town once notorious for the invention and early mass production of the modern day plumbing and sewage system. Following a series of fires devastating the town over fifty years ago, Spaulding had to rebuild, and grew into a tree-hugging community that gets organic sugar highs at the Hoo Doo donut shop and saves their Styrofoam all year long to camp out overnight for a good spot on the one day that it is accepted for recycling. The one tradition that remained in Spaulding to honor the town's history is the Sewer Pipe Queen Pageant, now open to both sexes and all ages.
In a world so different from the one she knows, Maye struggles endlessly to find new friends, and fails miserably from finding even just one. Her attempts to join a book club leads her a coven of sparkly witches that want to chop off her hair and bathe her. She manages to find welcome with a militant group of vegetarians until she is discovered devouring a "pretty cow." Alas, when she thinks she has found a town newcomer suffering her same fate, she is audience to her dinner partner's drunken menstrual rage. All this after an unintentional striptease, in her granny bra, at her husband's faculty party upon their arrival to town.
Maye decides to multiply her efforts at friendship en mass by entering the Sewer Pipe Queen's Pageant but to do so she must be sponsored by a former queen. An unexpected friendship (that ends in a way that will totally tick off the reader and is incompatible with the entire rest of the book) sprouts between the Maye, the town's newcomer, and Ruby, the town's outcast- a chain-smoking, alcoholic, dog-breeding, former pageant queen recluse that agrees to be her mentor.
Notaro's writing style is conversational and hilarious. The parody of small-town life and the new-hippie culture is humorous yet believable. Maye Roberts is a character that you want to embrace and hold close so that you can have her all to yourself as a friend. And, the narration unfolds like a neighbor on the back deck during a mosquito-laden late night telling you about this crazy period of her life.