|Nancy J. Cohen: Permed to Death|
But Vail and his intriguingly gray-peppered hair aren't Marla's only problems. Marla's ex-husband is threatening her. A rival hairdresser covets Cut 'N Dye's profitable location. Mrs. Kravitz's business partner wants to sue. Marla's best friend Tally needs encouragement and a friendly shoulder to whimper on, because Tally thinks her husband has started an affair. Mrs. Kravitz's niece and sole beneficiary can't find the letter that reveals Marla's second secret. Todd, Mrs. Kravitz's son wants to show Marla his assets, although since he's not employed or inheriting, he doesn't have any of a monetary nature.
Add in a typical Mother, at least five salon employees (two of whom seem to connected to Mrs. Kravitz's business), a barrel of boyfriends, a neighbor, the salon cleaning crew, a cute pooch, who knows how many customers… And you find yourself wishing Cohen would simply stop!
Permed to Death has so much going for it. Cohen accurately portrays southern Florida. Cohen captures Marla's voice perfectly and makes the Cut 'N Dye salon so real I could swear I've sat in its chairs. But the cast of thousands mires the action in endless conversation. Readers can't tell the players without a program, but the book doesn't provide one.
For example, Darlene seems to be an employee of the Cut 'N Dye, but you'd never guess it from her first appearance at Bertha's funeral. The fact must be teased out of dialogue and bits and pieces of. The best thing anyone could've done for Permed to Death would've been to kill off half the cast before the book ever saw print. As it stands, you can barely see the book's good points through the wall of fictional humanity separating reader from story.
The main character's age present another problem. It took me two readings to get a fix on Marla's age. A reader receives a word portrait of characters, and Marla transmits an image much older than the 34 years I calculated from the details provided in the book. Bertha's niece Wendy treats Marla like an authority figure, not a near contemporary. Vail's gray-peppered hair and Arne's receding hairline don't help matters either -- not to mention the hot flash remedy offered by one of Marla's supposedly young and trendy staff. This off-age impression isn't consistent throughout the book, but like a taste of bitter almonds, it taints the flavor of an otherwise good characterization.
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