Monday, November 7, 2011

Gone with a Handsomer Man Combines Good Cooking & Good Southern Story Telling

Imagine coming home to find your husband-to-be gallivanting around the backyard semi-nude with not one, but two women. That's exactly the predicament Teeny Templeton finds herself in. No one could blame her for what happened next: an attack by peaches. Peaches were simply the closest weapon to her, hanging as they were on a nearby tree.

In a bout of ridiculousness, Teeny is arrested and faces criminal charges for assault, although, if you ask me, the only thing hurt on her good-for-nothing fiance Bing was his pride. Kicked out of her own home by a judge granting an order of protection (to keep Bing from being pelted by fruit again, one presumes), she turns to her Bing's aunt Dora. Unfortunately for Bing, Teeny has always been a favorite of Dora's. With her help, Teeny moves out of Bing's house and into a grand old mansion his family owns.

Things turn from bad to worse when Bing turns up dead. Teeny, of course, becomes suspect number one. After she runs into an old flame from back home in Georgia who just so happens to be a lawyer, Teeny fights the charges against her. Coop tries to help Teeny out of her mess, while maintaining a professional distance from their past.

In Michael Lee West's latest novel, Gone with a Handsomer Man, she returns to those things she does best:
  • the south, Charleston in particular
  • food, with Teeny's interest in (and almost obsession with) baking
  • a gothic quality
West describes Charleston and its outlying islands with aplomb and grace. I adore a well-written southern novel, and Michael Lee West delivers once again in this latest effort. Teeny and cast are caricatures of southern characters, drawn with bold strokes on the page. Dora, especially, is the epitome of a fine southern lady, laced with bourbon and lined with steel. Both the old family mansion south of Broad and Coop's island cottage are dwellings worthy of their Charleston setting.

One of Michael Lee West's ongoing themes in her novels is food. She even wrote a memoir based on her hereditary food obsession, Consuming Passions. Food has factored into all of her books, but perhaps none so much as Gone with a Handsomer Man, in which Teeny bakes both for money and for sanity. In flashback scenes, Teeny also recalls childhood moments in which her mother whipped up poisonous recipes to deal with her own demons.

Both the setting and the baking-with-poison lend the novel a southern gothic quality. Michael Lee West novels are never sunshine and cupcakes; she inserts a healthy dose of real life, in this case via Teeny's dubious dealings with her mother and subsequent difficulties as an adult. Somehow cooking especially always has an underlying desperation and murderous quality in West's books. In She Flew the Coop, the main character lies in a coma "after drinking pop laced with rose poison," and in Mad Girls in Love, southern belle Bitsy attempts to kill  her husband with "a frozen slab of ribs that she purchased at the Piggly Wiggly."

Gone with a Handsomer Man is a satisfying addition to West's bevy of southern novels. The best news? When I met her at the Southern Festival of Books in October, West shared the news that a sequel starring Teeny will be published soon. I can't wait to find out what else is in store for Teeny after the surprise ending of this novel.

Michael Lee West is the author of five other novels and one recipe-laden memoir. To find out more about her, visit her website or her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. West explains how her vision of Teeny came during a trip to the Low Country here. An excerpt of Gone with a Handsomer Man, as well as an array of Teeny's recipes can be found on  by clicking here. To connect with Teeny herself, visit The World According to Teeny, a great character blog full of recipes, sneak peeks, giveaways, and more.


  1. The cover on this books just cracks me up. Very clever.

  2. The cover for the second one is almost as good -- and Michael Lee West's writing is just as funny! This is truly a case of the cover matching the book perfectly.



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