Crazy About Miss Julia

In her latest book in the Miss Julia series, Ann B. Ross considers the lunatic reach of love

by Faye Jones

Miss Julia Renews Her Vows
By Ann B. Ross
Viking
352 pages
$24.95

It's appropriate that Ann B. Ross should begin her eleventh Miss Julia novel with a lecture by the protagonist, who warns Hazel Marie's intended that he better not break his bride's heart: "Seeing is believing, and with your marital history—which you've taken no pains to conceal—I have every reason in the world to worry. Three wives, Mr. Pickens, and not a one of them took. Marry 'em and leave 'em, that seems to be your motto, and I'm telling you now, I am not going to have Hazel Marie treated in that fashion."

The problem in Miss Julia Renews Her Vows is not just that Hazel Marie's fiancé has been married three times before; the problem is also that Hazel Marie is pregnant. With twins. Miss Julia is determined to keep Hazel Marie from suffering any social consequences from her behavior: "[N]ow came the need for explanations and cover-ups and outright lies that in the long run no one would believe," she says. "In truth, however, I didn't care whether anyone believed them or not, just so they acted as if they did."

But Hazel Marie's reputation will soon become only one of several issues that plague the notorious busybody, Miss Julia. First, there's the reappearance of Francie Pitts, a much-married and much-widowed woman, presumbably in search of husband number six. Then Francie gets attacked in her ritzy retirement apartment and blames Etta Mae Wiggins, a home health worker. Miss Julia knows that Etta Mae would never hurt anyone and starts sleuthing for the real culprit.

But what finally sends Miss Julia to her sick bed is her husband Sam's suggestion that they attend a marriage-enrichment class. That's bad enough: what woman wants to be told her marriage needs enriching (and Miss Julia knows what that really means)? But, even worse, it's being taught by a single man who still lives with his mother and who happens to the source of a moment of shame in Miss Julia's past.

Ross fans know that, in the end, Miss Julia will set everything right. The fun is in seeing how Miss Julia—nine parts Southern matron and one part detective— does it. She knows how to invite everyone to a luncheon that will announce Hazel Marie's condition in just the right way, but she is also willing to get on her knees and crawl out of a meeting if it keeps her out of her nemesis's line of vision. If you're unacquainted with this Southern force of nature, you'll be hooked by the end of this novel, and if you're a faithful fan, reading this novel will feel like catching up with an old friend.

Ann B. Ross will read from and sign copies of Miss Julia Renews Her Vows at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on April 9 at 7 p.m.

Published Wednesday, 7 April 2010