CW/TW: Sexual harassment
Some of you know that I’ve been doing guest reviews here at SBTB for a couple of years. So when it came time to choose a book for my first review as an official part of the team, I knew it had to be this one. It’s my favourite book of all time and to read it is to know me, so what better way to introduce myself?
Jill “Friday” Fryman is stuck in the Heartland of America. She’s been working at Krylon Motors for twelve years and, even though she’s a line supervisor, she has no real authority. Far stupider men get to go much farther in the company, leaving Jill to wonder regularly what she’s doing with her life. Sure, she could finish her MBA, but where would she even put it to use in a town as small as Princeton, Indiana? And when would she have time anyway, between working full time, unwinding from the day’s bullshit with her best friends at their local bar of choice, Hoosier Daddy, and showing up for the occasional fish fry at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall?
Krylon’s just been bought by Ogata Torakku of Indiana, though, so at least a change in management is in Jill’s future, and hopefully not for the worse. She and her colleagues aren’t the only ones who know change is on the horizon. A couple of United Automobile Workers (UAW) agitators show up in town, hoping to get 30% of Krylon’s workforce to give their signatures over so they can trigger a vote to unionize the plant.
One of the agitators is El, who Jill immediately notices is smart, funny, charming, and beautiful as all get-out. Even better, El is interested in her too, although Jill can’t fathom why. Their chemistry is instant and they barely try to fight it, even though they know a relationship between a union organizer and a line supervisor is a terrible idea. But isn’t it funny how sometimes bad ideas are actually the best ones of all?
The first time I read Hoosier Daddy, my heart almost exploded because I was struck by how well my experience and inner landscape was captured in Jill’s story and her surroundings. Princeton sounds a lot like the small town where I grew up, not far from Windsor, Ontario, which has long been hailed as the auto manufacturing capital of Canada. Drive for about 20 minutes from either Windsor or my parents’ house and you’ll reach corn fields, including those that used to belong to my grandparents.
Jill is Schrödinger’s Hoosier because she fits and doesn’t fit at all in Princeton, which is the other main point of connection for me with her because that’s exactly how I felt before I moved across the country. She’s surrounded by people she loves, like the grandmother who practically raised her and her best friends, Luanne and T-Bomb, but also people like her serial sexual harassing boss, Buzz Sheets, and Earl Jr, the totally oblivious dumbass who gets promoted over Jill, much to her friends’ disgust and frustration.
Because Hoosier Daddy is told in the first person by Jill, everyone is chronicled with love or a major side eye, depending on who they are. Luanne and T-Bomb especially are absolute treats, unafraid to give Jill the straight goods when she needs them (every time Luanne says “I got nothin’ to say, so I’ll just say this…”, she’s sure to drop a nugget of wisdom) or to poke fun at each other when the opportunity strikes. Scenes with them often left me chuckling, like when Luanne needs to head off to pick up her daughter’s dress for the beauty pageant on Pork Day USA (“the second most sacred day of the year in these parts”).
Luanne took a long drag off her cigarette. “I gotta head back across the river. Bessie Greathouse is comin’ by to let out the seams in Jailissa’s dress. I swear . . . that girl had to get them boobs from her daddy’s people.”
T-Bomb looked Luanne over. “Her daddy’s people must a had good legs, too.”
“Kiss my ass. I got these damn cankles from thirty years of standing up for ten hours a day.”
Speaking of people Jill cares about, El is also a major highlight of the story and I fell for her almost as quickly as Jill did. While I liked that she’s not afraid to go after Jill right from their first meeting, I was even more impressed by the way she respects and appreciates Jill, her life, and her family. For example, El’s invited to dinner at Grammy Mann’s super early in their relationship, and rather than getting antsy about it, she shows up and charms Grammy Mann just by being herself. El blows the lid off Jill’s tightly contained life, and Jill has to decide if she can finally accept that she deserves more than her current state of stagnation, including a woman who recognizes how amazing she is. It’s just… *chef’s kiss*.
I also want to note that El and Jill’s banter alone is worth showing up for, because it’s part of why I love rereading Hoosier Daddy. One of my favourite instances is when El tries to make Jill guess what she used to do for work before she became an agitator.
“I don’t want to guess. We’ve already established that I suck at guessing.”
“You mean you give up?”
“El . . .”
“No. First you have to say, I give up. Then, I’ll tell you.”
“Are you kidding me?”
She sighed. “It’s easy to see that you didn’t grow up with three brothers.”
“Is everything with you a contest of wills?”
She thought about that. “More or less.”
“Okay, then. I give up.”
El cupped a hand around her ear and leaned toward me. “Excuse me?”
I took a deep breath. “Uncle. I give up. You win. I surrender. If I had a white flag, I’d wave it. If I had a sword, I’d fall on it. If I had milk money, I’d give it to you. Okay?”
She looked unconvinced. “You have to say it like you mean it.”
If I were to have a single quibble, which I personally don’t because I love this book so much, it would be that occasionally Jill or other characters get too technical or focused on the inner workings of the factory. This happens right at the beginning, so I’d urge you to keep reading even if the first few pages make you wonder why I’d recommend a factory book, and it happens again near the end in a scene with the new factory owner. I tend to skim that latter scene because, while it’s important for Jill to know that information, I just want to see Jill and El getting their totally lovely HEA.
Hoosier Daddy has tremendous heart from the first page to the last and reads like a love letter to small town Indiana life. If it pokes fun at these people, it does so gently and only ever with affection, never punching down. The story and its people are frequently so hilarious that I had to stop whatever I was doing the first time I listened to it because I was laughing so hard I started to cry. If you’re an audiobook fan, I highly recommend getting it in that format because Christine Williams crushes the narration, bringing all of the characters to life so vividly and distinctly that I still hear those voices even when I read it to myself on the Kindle.
If you’re looking for an angst-free, silly, gentle, lovely lesbian romance, I can’t recommend Hoosier Daddy enough. It’s one I come back to again and again, and I know I’ll be doing that for the next, oh, forever years to come.