Rose Mae Lolley can't stop thinking about her high school sweetheart, especially now that she's decided to escape her abusive marriage for a new life. On her own (but for her fat little dog Gretel), Rose Mae begins a desperate journey to find the boyfriend who disappeared, but what she finds has more to do with her long-gone mother and her own struggle to define herself.
I loved this book for its subtle magical realism (think of Like Water for Chocolate or Chocolat), its characters' complexity (an abusive history is never simple, but it's often portrayed as a simple victim/victimizer one), and its section set in Berkeley, California. Odd and yet comforting in its familiarity, any books set there remind me of my childhood and strike a chord in me.
A fortune-teller watches Rose Mae use her beauty to get what she wants from a man and comments (p. 37):
"'I remember, in my twenties, especially, how I would feel a young man turn and see me. I'd watch his face become bright and greedy. Always made me feel like a naked Christmas tree, how he'd be hanging things all over me, expectations and wants. Young men, romantics, call it love at first sight, but even then I understood it was only prettiness. Young men see pretty, and they start hanging all the things they hope you'll be onto you till you're so weighed down you can't move.'"
Rose Mae is walking in Berkeley with Gretel when they encounter a homeless man (p. 235):
"'The weird go west,' I tell my dog. Anyone too strange for Berkeley must walk straight into the sea like a lemming to drown. Or possibly grow gills. If they are too odd for this city, there can be no place for them above sea level.'"