The Adventures of Stout Mama

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sibyl James’protagonist in THE ADVENTURES OF STOUT MAMA is a woman in love with obsessions and excess. Her obsessions are freakish; they are obsessions mainstream America would not necessarily share. For one thing, she is a Southern Californian in love with her clunky old beat-up Volkswagen. Moreover, she is an itinerant, a nomadic collector of soft wisdom, short tales, diets, and part-time teaching jobs. On the other hand, like many American women over forty, she is obsessed with giving things up (chocolate and cigarettes), trimming things down (thighs, medical terminology) and hanging on to her bruised ideals. Her romantic fixation on Mick Jagger may or may not reflect a common tendency of her age and class.

Stout Mama’s excesses are more erudite. She is a language freak, smitten equally by the mundane, the arcane, and the sublime in language. Although she makes her living by piecing together writing workshops and freshman comp classes at various ends of expressways, she keeps her soul together by paying homage to words and considering what makes life poetic. The health food store for example, offers more satisfying descriptions on the labels of its bottles, than does the pharmacy’s “ugly polysyllabic terms.” So Stout Mama shuns medroxyprogesterone acetate in favor of “unicorn root” and “blessed thistle.” These words, she muses, can make a healing mantra or a lullaby.

The city-skewed vignettes and humorous sound bites that make up James’s book will please those who like listening to a fast-talking woman with a clever tongue and a big mouth. Stout Mama’s story is designed to be hip, bittersweet, and readable.