Patty Jane Dobbin should have known better than to marry a man as gorgeous as Thor Rolvaag, but she was too smitten to think twice. Yet nine months into their marriage, with a baby on the way, Thor is gone. It’s a good thing Patty Jane has her irrepressible sister, Harriet, to rely on. For it’s been said that a fine haircut can cure any number of ills, and before long the Minnesota sisters have opened a neighborhood beauty parlor complete with live harp music and an endless supply of delicious Norwegian baked goods. It’s a wonderful, warmhearted place where you can count on good friends, lots of laughter, tears, and comfort when you need it—and the unmistakable scent of somebody getting a permanent wave. . . .
About the Author
Lorna Landvik is also the author of the bestselling Your Oasis on Flame Lake and the upcoming The Tall Pine Polka. She has worked as an actor, a comedian, and a speed typist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and their dog, Petunia.
Read an Excerpt
PATTY JANE KEPT a drawer full of cotton bandanas spritzed with dimestore perfume - Tabu and Evening in Paris and, occasionally, My Sin, which I thought was a chic as chic could get. I helped out at the House of Curl after school and on Saturdays. Whenever anyone stank up the place with a permanent wave, I would be called upon to distribute the bandanas and tie them carefully, the way a nurse ties a doctor's surgical mask, over the nose and mouth of our customers. Everyone in the shop wore them (except for Clyde Chuka, the manicurist, who said Tabu gave him a worse headache than permanent-wave solution) so that the room looked overtaken by a bunch of Old West bandits assembled for a Dippety-Doo heist.
"Scented kerchiefs are one of the nice touches that separates our establishment from the others," Patty Jane often said. Other nice touches included homemade banana bread served with coffee to women basting under hair dryers; pale green smocks monogrammed with the initials of our regulars (we kept a supply of less personalized smocks"V.I.P" and "First Lady"on hand for walk-ins); and harp concerts courtesy of my Aunt Harriet, whose accompaniment to my bandana distribution was always the William Tell Overture.
Patty Jane, my mother, was big on nice touches.
"For cripes' sake," she said, "if you can't be a class act, why bother?"
She studied what society news was to be found in the Minneapolis Star as if she were a candidate for a PhD in High Living; she drove her rattly old DeSota around Lake of the Isles, picking out mansions she would live in were her inheritance more sizable than a pair of turquoise cuff links and an incomplete set of 1947 World Books; she tried on designer dresses at Dayton's Oval Room and Powers and then had my grandmother sew up copies on her heavy black Pfaff sewing machine.
"Just because my life began in the bargain basement," she said, "doesn't mean I can't take the escalator to Fine Crystals."
Truth be told, if my mother were to spend any time in Fine Crystals, it was guaranteed something would break.
Reading Group Guide
1. What kind of childhood did Patty Jane and Harriet have? How has their childhood affected the course of their adult lives?
2. Why is Thor terrified by his impending fatherhood? Do you think he was really ready to embrace it before he disappeared?
3. The private investigator hired to track Thor down remarks that the good-looking never seem to have close friends. What do you think of this statement? Is there any merit in it?
4. Why does Patty Jane refuse anesthesia when she is in labor? Discuss the various reactions to her behavior during labor.
5. How would you describe the family that Patty Jane and Harriet create for themselves? Discuss the families that we are born into and the ones we create.
6. How do Ione and Patty Jane navigate the dangerous currents in their relationship? Do you think you could do the same in a similar situation? Would you want to?
7. The characters in this novel use Patty Jane's House of Curl as a place to unburden themselves. What other places might people go to share their problems? Would you like to spend some time at the House of Curl? Or do you already have a House of Curl in your life?
8. Why do you think Avel's sisters hate him so much?
9. What do you think provoked Esme Ames's change of heart? Discuss how it can take a loss to make people value what they have as opposed to what they do not have.
10. Harriet says that "too much thought scared her, that she was happier doing than thinking." Why do you think she feels this way? Do you agree?
11. Harriet's decision to face the ghosts from her past almost costs her her life. What do you think separates those who hurt themselves in the face of great pain from those who are able to channel their demons more constructively?
12. Why does Patty Jane finally let Harriet go down the dangerous path she has chosen? What does it cost each of them? Do you think Patty Jane made the right deci-sion by letting go?
13. Why does it take Patty Jane and Clyde so long to get together? What are the obstacles in their path?
14. Did the explanation of Thor's disappearance surprise you?
15. In what ways do the rest of the characters underesti-mate the Thor who returns to them? Do you think he understands what has happened to him?
16. What frees Ione to finally begin the traveling she waited her whole life to do? Discuss the dangers of using other people's needs to avoid addressing your own.
17. Discuss the varied reactions to Harriet's illness by her family and friends. Is there a "right" way to respond to such news?
18. Why doesn't Patty Jane ever divorce Thor?
19. "What a big chunk of God is to be found by looking into the face of someone you love!" Discuss the signifi-cance of this statementboth the good and the bad.
20. "Honey, life can be a ballroom dance and it can be full of shit. Your job in both cases is to watch where you step." These are the words to live by that Patty Jane imparts to her daughter. Do you agree with this state-ment? If you had to boil down your own philosophy of life into one sentence, how would it read?
21. Are there any characters you would like to have heard more (or less) from? Why or why not?
22. If you could ask the author a question of your own, what would it be?
23. How does your group decide what to read? What are you reading next?