The Ladies’ Room, by Carolyn Brown

This is one of those books I picked up on a sale not knowing what to expect. After a small rough patch I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Though set in Oklahoma … not officially “The South” … the book starts out feeling like dozens of small town southern books that have cropped up since Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias. Trudy lives in a small town in Oklahoma. While attending the funeral of her crusty aunt Gertrude she escapes to the church ladies’ room. While in the stall she overhears women talking about the infidelities of her husband of 20 years. Having lived through the marriage a little suspicious but generally naive this is all news to her. She returns to the funeral crying, gaining some support from an old high school acquaintance named Billie Lee Tucker.

Immediately after the funeral there’s a reading of the will, and Trudy learns that she is the only one of her sisters to receive a legacy from the aunt, including a battered old house. She goes home, packs a bag, and moves right in. The next day she cleans out the joint accounts and then learns that her legacy is MUCH more than she expected.

Billie Lee happens to have been her aunt’s next door neighbor for years. He informs Trudy that her aunt also left him a legacy that he should use to restore the old home if Trudy  keeps it or keep the money if not.

Through the restoration of the house she and Billie Lee develop a relationship as she discovers there’s much more to him than the reputation he’s gained as the town oddball.

Rather than being a full southern eccentric book or an abs-and-biceps romance Carolyn Brown developed a sensitive story, digging not just into the romance but issues such as Trudy’s mother and dealing with her Alzheimer’s, trying to rebuild a relationship with her own daughter, and digging into the backstory of what made aunt Gertrude such a hardened character.

It’s a well-written book — romantic without turning Billie Lee into a muscled love toy. There are moments near the beginning where it feels like a copy of Fried Green Tomatoes, with a main character breaking out of a marriage to find herself, but it goes off in new and interesting directions. Definitely a fun read with characters you can root for.