Sugar Land, Joni Rodgers’ second novel, introduces readers to the sister act of Kit and Kiki nee Smithers. As the Sugar Babes, little girls decked out in gold lame, they wowed audiences with their booming voices, but as adults pursing traditional roles as wives and mothers, they fail repeatedly to make themselves heard. Kit, the older, seeks to revitalize her marriage to Mel, a hardworking airplane mechanic, by leaving magazines in the bathroom in hopes that he will read the articles on rekindling romance. But Mel does not get the message and Kit suffers in silence. Nor can she vocalize her true feelings about others in her life, so she harbors guilt and is plagued by dreams of her shortcomings being revealed on the Ricki Lake show. While Kit’s silences result in frustration and anxiety, Kiki’s refusal to speak out endangers her life and that of the child she is carrying. Her awful secret is that she is a battered wife, too terrified to confide in anyone, even her sister. Only after a series of false starts and setbacks can the sisters achieve their adult voices.
Sugar Land is an interesting but uneven novel. The plot is fast -paced, taking a number of unexpected twists, but in her efforts to surprise the reader, Rodgers sometimes obfuscates more than she entertains by withholding information and blurring shifts in point-of-view. Occasionally, the language seems forced, but the tone works most of the time, most of the characters are effectively drawn, if not always convincingly, and most of Sugar Land is an enjoyable read.