‘All the Single Ladies’ by Dorothea Benton Frank has something for every reader. Amongst the book’s 368 pages, you’ll find humor, romance, drama, crime, a gun fight, environmental issues and hospital drama. Not a problem for a long standing, best-selling author you might say, but some readers complained of sketchy characters and unrealistic plotting.
Lisa St. Clair, a part-time nurse at Palmetto Assisted Living Facility, is barely squeaking by financially after her business venture went bust. She greatly admires the two devoted women who regularly visit her favorite cancer patient, Kathy Harper. Suzanne Williams, a sprite with long, shiny, dark brown hair, owns a popular boutique-sized floral design business. A tall striking blonde, Carrie Collins, just buried her almost husband whose children are now contesting the marriage’s legality. (The three women develop an unbelievably fast friendship!)
Lisa and her beloved westie, Pickle have temporarily made their home in the Indian Village section of Old Mount Pleasant situated in the South Carolina low country. The “old renovated ranch of deep burgundy bricks that could never win a beauty pageant” belongs to her mother’s friend. But when that friend’s 55-year-old divorced daughter needs a free place to live, Lisa is booted out without notice.
Lucky for Lisa, there’s a room available in Miss Trudie’s house on the Isle of Palms. Since Carrie and Suzanne, Miss Trudie’s granddaughter, also live in the 1910 clapboard house right across from the ocean, Lisa readily accepts their move-in invitation. (A wonderful gesture on Suzanne’s part, but how well do these three ladies really know each other? Maybe the floral designer is just looking for live-in help for 99-year-old Miss Trudie.)
Things start to get interesting when the trio packs up Kathy’s apartment after her death. Landlady, Wendy Murray, a victim of extreme plastic surgery, (‘her face stretched like saran wrap’) tags two prize furniture pieces as hers: a chest on chest and a linen press, both 19th century English walnut. Plus she’s wearing Kathy’s bracelets, a birthday gift from Carrie. Somebody is definitely taking advantage here especially when landscaping bills for the landlady’s property keep appearing after Kathy’s death. (Did Wendy really think she’d get away with that?)
All three ladies find romance in the oddest places: Lisa’s boss from the Palmetto Assisted Living Facility, a GHP architect and organist from Kathy’s funeral and a dating service for thrice married Carrie. (WOW, that was fast!)
Underlying the recent developments in Lisa’s life is her two-year estrangement from her daughter, Marianne. Aided by her father, the 23-year old had set up a tour company in Aspen for visitors who want to experience marijuana. Even though Marianne’s business in Colorado is a legal one, Lisa finds is immoral and has said so on more than one occasion. (Parenting adult children can be tricky at times. The less said the better; a tact that Lisa has been slow to master.)
Many reviewers characterized All the Single Ladies as their least favorite Dorothea Benton Frank novel. Not having read her previous works, I can make no comparison, but did feel that the characters were constantly rushing: from work, to exercise, to date. . . Many considered the book a ‘lite’ read, chick lit, or perfect for beach reading. Others found the characters poorly developed and the plot unrealistic; only Lisa, Suzanne and Carrie bore any resemblance to flesh and blood people. Highlights for me included the obstinate Miss Trudie, the interaction of Lisa’s parents, and the nursing home hijinks.
Not a great work of literature, but an enjoyable read with plenty of discussion points for any book club!
All The Single Ladies Book Club Questions:
- The author acknowledges naming her characters after real people. Which character would you like to lend your name to? Why?
- Lisa makes it clear from the very beginning that she does not approve of Marianne’s pot business. Is being alienated from your only child worth voicing your disapproval over and over again?
- Do you agree/disagree that loyal friends can be a better and more reliable family than blood relations?
- The ladies use Arthur Aron’s 36-question experiment to learn more about their boyfriends. Share your answer to one of his questions listed below:
Whom would you have as a dinner guest?
What is your greatest accomplishment? Your greatest regret?
How close are/were you to your mother?
5. The importance of friendship seems to be the novel’s central theme. How does Dorothea Benton Frank weave this theme throughout her work.
6. Humor is used extensively to lighten the plot. Where do you find the author’s use of humor most effective? Give examples.
7. It’s pretty evident to the reader that the landlady has ulterior motives, but do the twists and turns of the Kathy Gordon Harper mystery hold your attention? Did you suspect the outcome?
8. Discuss the author’s use of Emily Dickinson’s poem as a foreword:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
9. How does Shakespeare’s quote from ‘Merchant in Venice’ apply to Frank’s novel: “All that glitters is not gold often you have heard it told, many a man his life has sold”.
10. Rate ‘All the Single Ladies’ from one (hated) to five (loved). After reading this book would you pick up another of Dorothea Benton Frank’s novels? Why or why not?