Mary Kay Andrews is one of those authors who I’ve read a couple of times and enjoyed in a breezy, beach book kind of way. I liked Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze, but I’m left feeling a little ambivalent about The Fixer-Upper. Perhaps it’s because I listened to it as an audio book and didn’t much care for the reader, or perhaps it was just too long. Either way, it filled the gaps in my time during my commute and during my walks, but I have a few nits to pick with it.
Dempsey Killebrew is a young up and coming lobbyist in Washington, D.C., when her boss is suddenly thrust in to the limelight, accused of corruption and bribery. Dempsey is unceremoniously dumped in the aftermath, and, needing to get out of town, not to mention out of the papers, her father sends her down to one-stoplight Guthrie, Georgia, to the ancestral home that he just recently inherited. Dempsey is to clean the place up and get it ready to sell.
But when Dempsey arrives at Birdsong, she finds more than she bargained for. The grounds are overgrown and the house is in desperate need of not only a cleaning, but a total gutting, including new plumbing, new wiring, a new roof, and about five garbage trucks to haul old Uncle Norbert’s fifty year collection of National Geographic magazines away. She has a squatter in the form of Ella Kate Timmons, a distant cousin who moved in to take care of Uncle Norbert before he died, and who now refuses to leave. And if all that wasn’t enough, the FBI is sniffing around, wanting to talk to her about those pesky credit card charges that trace back to hookers and “massages” for the Congressman her former boss was lobbying, and T. Carter Berryhill, handsome attorney and newspaper man, keeps wanting to take her out to dinner.
So here’s where my nits come in. I’ve done home renovation. Maybe not to the extent that Dempsey is having to do it, but I’m here to tell you that there is no way on God’s green earth that she’s not only going to magically find a contractor who can do everything from plumbing to roofing to electrical work, but that that contractor will a) happily lend his tools to her, b) be available immediately, c) find a vintage farmhouse sink from the 20s at the town dump, d) build a fantastic kitchen island out of scrap wood from a dark and damp basement, and e) fix a slate roof in one day. And that T. Carter Berryhill is going to find her adorable in her dead uncle’s overalls, peeling up green linoleum, which, of course, reveals gorgeous heart pine floors. And that she’s going to figure out how to tile a kitchen counter (with salvaged tile from the basement, natch) when two weeks ago, the biggest thing her hands were doing was getting a manicure. And that the kitchen counter would only take an afternoon. Never once did Dempsey run in to any sort of snag. The hardware store always had what she needed, the local Realtor painted her house (for free), and her contractor was a dream. And the timeline for getting things repaired kind of blew my mind. Stripping the paint off of all your cupboard doors takes more than a couple of hours, especially when there are eighty years of paint on them. Can you tell that I felt like the home renovation stuff was a little bit unrealistic? And that’s disappointing, because one of the things I loved best about Andrews’ other stories were those exact things – the junking and renovation and searching for just the right faucet.
There’s also a weird extraneous storyline involving Ella Kate’s reason for hating Dempsey’s side of the family so much, and, believe it or not, it’s because Ella Kate never forgave Dempsey’s grandfather for stealing Dempsey’s grandmother Olivia away from her when they were young girls together at Agnes Scott College, the marriage leading to Olivia’s early demise. Apparently, Ella Kate and Olivia were lovers, and the entire story line felt forced and sort of added on at the end.
Maybe I’m being too hard on Andrews. It’s fiction, after all, and maybe I should just suspend a little bit of disbelief. Honestly, I think what irritated me the most about The Fixer-Upper was the narrator. Her voice for Ella Kate was perhaps the worst and most grating old lady voice I’ve ever heard, and sadly, Ella Kate talks a lot. I felt like I would have liked Ella Kate had I read the book, but her voice, as read by the narrator, turned me off from the character permanently. Luckily, the scenes with Dempsey’s five year old twin half brothers were mercifully short, because I nearly turned off the book when they began whining.
I’ll give Andrews another shot down the road. I just don’t think I’ll listen to this narrator again.