The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews Harper, 422 pp., $25.99 Reviewed by David Marshall James Mary Kay Andrews (aka Kathy Trocheck) is back in top form, rippin' it up and haulin' it out in a novel of a young woman's forced journey toward self-discovery. Dempsey Killebrew, 27, has been living a platinum Amex-card lifestyle Inside-the-Beltway as a D.C. lobbyist's assistant, having gone from boarding school in Richmond through Georgetown Law. However, her boss is called out for attempting to buy a congressman's vote (imagine that), and the naive-to-the-ways-of-the-Washington-World Dempsey-- who has been admittedly blinded by a crush on her older, handsome (and much-married) boss-- discovers that she's been set up to take all the blame and the resulting fall. With her capital career tanked, she flies to her father's digs in Miami, but he's too wound up with a younger, second wife and twin preschool boys to devote much attention to putting his daughter back on track. Meanwhile, Dempsey's mother-- mostly absent from her formative years and now living New Age bliss in Southern California-- urges her daughter westward, but Dempsey has far too many "mother issues" to consider residence within a two-thousand-mile radius of her. Dempsey's dad, anxious to have her out of his thinning hair, offers her the opportunity to check out his familial home in fictitious Guthrie, Georgia, about sixty miles south of Atlanta. He has recently inherited the house from an eccentric, long-lived great-uncle, the last of a once-prominent, wealthy family line that founded the town mill, which specialized in producing chenille bedspreads. With no other choice to speak of, Dempsey departs for Guthrie, hoping to slap on some fresh paint, inside and out, then "flip" the house for several times its assessed value. No such luck. The homestead, called Birdsong, is near-derelict and is inhabited by a cantankerous, aged cousin and her cocker spaniel. Ella Kate Timmons refuses to vacate until forcibly removed, and who's going to pitch a little old lady and her pet out on the street? Dempsey's problems escalate: How is she going to fix up Birdsong on a song? What's she going to do with the considerable future ahead of her, if and when the house is up-to-code and otherwise up-to-snuff? Moreover, what's she going to do when her name is dragged through the mud across the front page of The Washington Post, and two federal agents knock on the front door of Birdsong? Fortunately, Dempsey does find assistance in Guthrie, and she does have gentleman callers showing up on the verandah. The recollections of longtime residents assist her in unspooling family secrets that have been packed away in dusty trunks and tucked in the bottoms of antique chests-of-drawers at Birdsong. As always, author Andrews never neglects the entertainment factor. Her writing gleams like the oft-polished patina of fine furniture when she is describing Southern homes, gardens, and artifacts. Her characters emerge as likable and believable. Her depiction of the gentrified past of Guthrie seems reminiscent of many such Southern mill towns. Although she brings her novel to an acceptable close, there's no denouement for more than a few loose threads. Therefore, one hopes Andrews will return to this place and these people, providing answers to the lingering questions surrounding Dempsey's-- and Birdsong's-- future. * * *
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