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Welcome to Eudora    by Mimi Thebo order for
Welcome to Eudora
by Mimi Thebo
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mimi Thebo's Welcome to Eudora presents a very sweet (but never saccharine) time slice of small town life, love, tragedy and triumph in a style reminiscent of Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. The story is set in Eudora, Kansas, 'a small town in the middle of wheat, oil, and cattle ... Wal-Mart has come and gone and it has survived. In this part of the world, there is no greater resilience than that.'

Lottie Dougal runs a stationery business and heals with herbal remedies on the side. She's one of the town's shining lights, though (from Eudora's viewpoint) an eccentric one who colors her hair and 'waves gaily at people who nod soberly in return.' Lottie has fallen hard for the new physician, Dr. James Emery and vice versa. His whirlwind courtship is watched with avid interest by townsfolk, 'much as a zookeeper would watch the courting behavior of giant pandas.' But the good doctor doesn't commit with a ring at the Snow Ball, as expected by all.

What's a girl to do? Lottie acquires a cat and begins to pine away. But then she takes action, in the form of a love potion, which misfires when Dr. Emery's mother has a heart attack, so that he returns from his emergency trip home with his mother's nurse, the implacable Angela Requena, as a new wife. She polishes him up and his practice too, but she doesn't like the way he looks at Lottie. And what of our heroine? She retaliates by building up her herbal business, and wears a demure dress to church in what everyone recognizes as a 'declaration of war'.

Though it's hard to imagine where this plotline will go, Mimi Thebo sorts it all out and ties it up in a bow. And while this alone would have made an enjoyable story, there's another layer. Invisible to white Eudorans, the town's Latino members shop mainly at back doors and work in the town quarry. The communities begin to mix via a new restaurant and Lottie's herbal practice, and when the quarry closure is announced, everyone pools together together in an attempt to save Eudora.

Even that would have been enough for an uplifting read but there's more, as financial worries bring out bad feelings. Racial tension in the wind, leading to violence that shocks everyone and spreads the town's dirty linen for all to see. This escalates and culminates in a political race with a competent Latino on one side and a white trash wastrel on the other. The community is divided but the latter has the edge because even some of the good folk in town are getting 'a feeling of being slightly pushed out' by the emergence of their brown neighbors from the shadows.

How Lottie solves this one is an absolute delight - and she gets what she deserves for her efforts too. Welcome to Eudora is a highly satisfying read, laced with humor. It emcompasses pride and prejudice, revels and racism, in a colorful community that's stressed and damaged but that ultimately finds its way back to good health.

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