Lee Hammond is a little bit lost. She’s just been dumped by girlfriend, Ginger, a stripper whose amorous attention has been wandering. Lee decides to take a last joy ride on Ginger’s Harley and finds herself looking for shelter from a sudden thunderstorm in a cemetery near a funeral in progress. Lee ends up giving a ride to funeral attendee Vivian Baxter. Vivian was a cheerleader from Lee’s high school class. Not just a cheerleader but THE cheerleader from Lee’s high school years and related adolescent fantasies. That is the beginning of a new chapter to the road trip genre.
Tats is often laugh-out-loud funny—as when Vivian decides to treat Lee to the “full monty” wax at a day spa — and sometimes charmingly silly – as when the duo decide to “camp” overnight inside a Wal-Mart. Vivian, it turns out, is on the run from an English mafia don and they turn in odd circles trying to avoid “Prince Charles.” Among those turns is a visit to a spa, their high school’s homecoming dance and more than a couple motels and hotels along the way. Indeed their great road trip goes a lot of places and raucous hilarity ensues yet they never seem to get very far. Both Vivian and Lee are flawed and vivid characters struggling to survive and often avoiding their pain with the next opportunity to numb.
Tats is the one of the first novels released under Bella Books’ new Bella Attitude line. And while not necessarily as erotic as the Bella After Dark line, Tats does have a little more “attitude” than the average Bella title and the humor and bold bawdiness might push boundaries for some readers. For example, “I have this weird thing where I nickname women’s tits after famous couples in history.” p13 or at the spa as Lee muses regarding her wax job offer of a triangle or heart, “That’s why they call it a bush, I guess. Because just like a bush, you can trim it into cute little shapes.” So Lee asks for a teddy bear. p84
Initially Lee seems just to be along for an unknown, unplanned and outlandish road trip with that fantasy of a cheerleader. Yet Tats is really Lee’s journey. A tall, butch, tattooed woman with a nightmare childhood who loves motorcycles and can fix most things mechanical, Lee has a quirky sense of humor — at one point covering a sleeping Vivian with little smiley faces stickers from Wal-Mart — and writes daily in her journal. Lee is also filled with pain. It is her confrontation of her past that grounds the novel as more than a romping road trip. Lee confronts abuse, trauma and survival and along the way, she finds her own path to healing, growth, family and freedom.
The debut novel by veteran screen writer, Layce Gardner, Tats takes the iconic buddy road trip story to a new place. For one thing, the heroes don’t die at the end! And hopefully, we’ll be hearing more from Lee and Vivian as well as Ms. Gardner. In the meanwhile, move over Thelma & Louise and step aside Butch & Sundance. There’s a new trip in town and it’s over the edge funny, gun blazing fast-paced and well worth the read.
~for MJ Lowe’s reviews of other books go to: mjsbookshelf.blogspot.com