Maxine is a picture perfect, pill-popping, haughty society lady in 1969 Palm Springs until the Thanksgiving her husband walks out on her. Fueled by her rage and buckets of DGAF, Maxine decides to reclaim what marriage stole from her. She joins forces with her favorite bartender, “confirmed bachelor” Robert, and together they craft a fake family to help Maxie enter the ultimate beauty queen contest for housewives – Mrs. American Pie. But is she here to win or just out to destroy?
Mr. & Mrs. American Pie is the accumulation of several stories I’ve been hashing out in my head since I was a kid.
First, there’s my fascination with beauty pageants. I came of age during a time when they were rapidly becoming tacky relics of a far more sexist time – or so I thought. My grandmother, Marcella, was Mrs. Minnesota 1956 and I always delighted in hearing her stories about how fake the whole thing felt. The women were all sequestered in little cabins while the men played golf and drank brown liquor all day. In reality, her marriage was crumbling and her body exhausted from birthing five kids in seven years (including a set of twins!), and then two more in the two following years. And yet she was still damn proud of that sewing award and her Mrs. Minnesota crown. If she could do it all over again, she said she would have had more fun with it and not worried so much about getting it “right.” I always felt like she meant life in general and not just the pageant.
Then there’s the fact that like my heroine Maxine Hortence, I am a Woman of a Certain Age. Luckily for me, I am a Woman of a Certain Age in 2016 and not 1970. Equality is still not perfected in America – we see that everyday in some glaringly obvious ways (President WHO!?!?!) – but to steal from a now-banned cigarette ad, “We’ve come a long way, baby!” It’s easy to forget that less than 50-years ago it was illegal to be gay, women couldn’t rent their own apartments or open their own bank accounts, and African-Americans barely won the right to vote.
I’m phenomenally grateful to live in an America that is inching towards full equality for all citizens. We’ve made advances in the last 25 years that felt unthinkable to me as a kid. These huge advancements are to be celebrated for certain (and built upon), but have we lost sight of how far we’ve come? Can Millennials or even Gen-x’rs keep in mind what the people who came before us suffered through to pave our way? I don’t think it’s good for us to lose sight of that.
That’s what this book is all about. Those fitful baby-steps towards a more equal and compassionate society that people like Maxine, Robert, and Maisey struggled in their own deeply personal way to make. There was a lot of heartbreak and compromise, and frankly even some settling with the world as it is while still striving for a world as it should be.
And of course what better setting for that to all go down than at a beauty pageant to crown the nation’s best housewife?