From the perspective of two characters, Mandalay Florentino and Imagene Doll, readers of Lisa Wingate's Talk of the Town learn all about Daily, Texas, and the strange and sometimes colorful characters that are its citizenry. The story opens with Mandalay Florentino being tasked with the responsibility of pulling off a broadcast coup related to Daily's own Amber Anderson, an up-and-coming singing sensation competing on the hit program American Megastar. Mandalay is sent to Daily to prepare for Amber's surprise appearance and to arrange for her hometown concert, assuming, of course, that Amber makes it into the top five. Mandalay is anything but prepared for the people and the accommodations she finds in Daily during her stay
Imagene Doll is a native of Daily, Texas, widowed within the previous year. She's locally famous for her turkey buzzard kills with her car, which the boys at the body shop track for her on a makeshift scoreboard in the garage, alongside other roadkill tallies. Imagene is one of several older women in the town who have their thumbs on its pulse, and there is very little that escapes their notice, particularly when strangers start arriving in town. Imagene works at the Daily Café next door to Daily Hair and Body, where she participates in video yoga classes with Donetta, the beauty shop owner, and Lucy, a Japanese war bride who immigrated in the '50s and who works with Donetta.
Big fun is inevitable, and the other Dailyians play strong supporting roles in the hometown happenings, from the Chamber of Commerce president whose full-time job is owner and chief fry cook of the Daily Café, to Buddy Ray, Daily's own Barney Fife, who strapped on a gun and a badge after six months of criminal justice school and is one of the keepers of the peace.
To outsiders like L.A. broadcast producer Mandalay Florentino and those who would come after her, the folks of Daily seem a bit simple in their stylings, but they have a down-to-earth characteristic that reveals itself over and again in Talk of the Town. The author's choice to provide dual storytellers, with Mandalay and Imagene alternating chapters, is unusual, but she manages to maintain their unique identities throughout and the shift from view to view keeps the story lively. I did stumble a bit with Wingate's speech-impaired character, Doyle, from the body shop. I found the stuttering effect a bit too exaggerated and sometimes an obstacle when trying to make sense of what the character was trying to say. I also found myself coming back to consider the title with respect to the story. Talk of the Town infers some other story might be found within and doesn't seem a good fit, generally. I still struggle with that, though no better title seems to present itself. Clichés run amuck in the conversations of the Dailyians, but being from a small rural community myself, I know that clichés are a real part of such a community's cultural language, and it would seem odd if they were left out all together.
Lisa Wingate's fans will surely enjoy this latest addition to her growing list of books, and she may even garner a few new fans as well; her writing style appeals to a broad age-range of female readers. The story is modern but the characters are traditional, and that makes the reader feel right at home. Wingate's descriptions are plentiful without being overdone. The ending… well, no spoilers here. You'll have to find out for yourself.