The Flood Girls, by Richard Fifield

Rachel Flood returns to her home town of Quinn, Montana. When she left town she had slept with the whole volunteer fire department (half of them named Jim) and quite a few other men in town. Sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend pushed her out of town. Now sober and a faithful with her AA meetings she returns to claim her late father’s trailer and try a different kind of life.

She befriends a short eighth grader named Jacob who spends most days sitting on top of his parents’ trailer listening to Madonna tapes and reading Jackie Collins novels. He is absolutely gay, opinionated, and able to make high fashion out of thrift store finds.

These are just two of dozens of characters populating this town of 956 people, filled with both male and lesbian silver miners, as well as Red Mabel (Indian) and Black Mabel (teeth blackened by crack). And, of course, Rachel’s mother who runs a bar called The Dirty Shame until she gets shot in the forearms during a robbery. She then asks Rachel to help run the bar and to help with the bar’s softball team The Flood Girls.

No spoilers but someone dies in the book. It’s tragic, senseless, and I still have damp handkerchiefs from it. Until then it’s one of the sweetest and funniest books I’ve read in ages. Living in Idaho with a fair share of Montana relatives and acquaintances the characters seem familiar, the people born to many small towns barely surviving on some nearby resource. Rachel, seeking to right and rewrite her life, is a charming lead character, trying her best to please an unpleasable mother and Red Mabel, her mother’s protector. With the help of her new AA sponsor she slowly learns softball to stop embarrassing her mother by covering her face with her mitt every time the ball heads to right field.

It’s a blessing to read an author, especially a new one, who can caricature small town eccentricities in a locale other than the Old South. The characters are all portrayed honestly but with love and respect. It has the sense of reality and humor I found in A Man Called Ove and a tragicomedy not unlike Steel Magnolias. Great book and imminently book club worthy.