A failed erotic novelist; a hostess of prim sex-toy parties; an artist and a bookshop owner pursued by a demented if harmless stalker; wives, lovers, twin sisters, daughters--all members of the artsy crowd in Omaha, try to hold their families, friendships and personal lives together as they face damaged and broken marriages, and mid-life crises during one whirlwind day that may only be saved by their own children, a timely fire, and a return to their senses.
Ashley, a frustrated novelist, teaches a community college class in the writing of erotica, which only seems to turn a magnifying glass on her own marriage woes. June has become filthy rich by selling marital aides at Tupperware-like home parties for a company called Sugar Shop Inc., but despite her wealth, she still longs to reunite with her impoverished ex-husband. Viv, an artist, learns to find creative inspiration, and maybe even a better understanding of herself, from a dirty-minded stalker who reliably sends her startling pictures in the mail every day. Peach and Plum, twin sisters, own a bookstore called Mermaids Singing, where together they attempt to unravel the knots of their own neuroses. All the while, the words and questionable wisdom of a tough-love motivational speaker, known only as Sybil the Guru, echoes throughout all their lives.
The day ends with a few raucous parties that threaten, or promise, to challenge the ways these various women continue to live. As the women struggle for guidance in the face of sheer lunacy, they come to realize that the most useful answers are likely the ones they come up with all on their own.
The Old Market section of Omaha serves as the bohemian center of Schaffert's diverting third novel. Ashley Allyson teaches erotic writing workshops, but doesn't realize that her husband, Troy (who edits an alternative weekly, The Omaha Street), is cheating on her with her student, Peach. Peach is one the two 20-something identical twins who run the local bookstore, Mermaids Singing; the other, Plum, has a yen for Tucker, a tallish tattooed dwarf photographer who photographs his impressive genitals. Ashley's neighbor and friend Deedee Millwood operates a franchise of the titular "Sweet Shop," a sort of sex-based Tupperware party where she hawks racy goods and advises sexually forlorn suburbanites. Deedee's teenage daughter, Naomi, can't stand Deedee's confessions about her sex life, and has her own crush on gay teen Lee--son of Ashley and Troy. Another friend and neighbor, African-American visual artist Viv Dailey, has been the victim of an increasingly active art stalker. Over the course of one improbably packed February evening, a missent e-mail between Peach and Troy brings everyone together. Schaffert (The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God) walks an uneasy tightrope between the amusingly sexy and the scabrous. The stalker's eventual characterization is a mean-spirited misstep, but Schaffert's bohemian Omaha is consistently surprising and vibrant. (May)
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April 29, 2007
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Excerpt from Devils in the Sugar Shop by Timothy Schaffert
The bark and shriek of a domestic dispute slipped in from the street, through a window at the front of the store opened a crack to let in gusts of cool air. The shop was frequently sweltering, as the condos upstairs were overrun with the elderly. In particular there seemed to be a surfeit of septuagenarian divorcees in greasy fur coats succumbing to mange, always flaunting their grandfathered-in kitty cats (pets were no longer allowed), and constantly complaining to maintenance of the cold. Because of the onion-thin skin of this slow parade of battleaxes, Plum and Peach sweltered in the winter months.
"Ooh, it looks like an ugly one," Peach said, walking to the front to watch the couple pass. She stood at the door on tiptoes to see over the blue-finned, red-nippled mermaid (reading Colette) painted on the glass.
"An ugly what?" Plum said. She walked to the window seat and raised a slat of the blinds. "An ugly husband? An ugly wife?"
"An ugly fight. Look how he's getting in her face like that."
"But she can't just walk away, can she?" Plum murmured. "Is he going to slug her? Should we call the police?"
"No, he won't slug her," Peach said. "At least not until they get home. Then bap, a knuckle sandwich."
"But maybe not," Plum said. "Maybe things are different when they're at home. In the dark of their kennel. At home, they just break open a bottle of us-against-the-world and anesthetize. Maybe it's only when they're out in the city, faced with everything they don't got, that they turn on each other."
After a silence, Peach said, "What am I doing, Plum?"
"That little lover's tango got you thinking," Plum said, sitting on the cushions of the window seat, drawing her knees up, putting her arms around them. "It's like a metaphor. For your affair."
"Oh, stop," Peach said. She sat next to Plum. Peach's skin was all goose-bumpy, and Plum reached over to rub some warmth into her arms. "Everything can be a metaphor for an affair," Peach said. "Because, our feelings for other people, that's all anybody's ever really thinking about, at any given minute, isn't it? Am I happy alone? Am I happy married? Am I having enough sex? Am I having too much? Is he unhappier than I am?"