The novel opens very lackadaisically with your garden-variety Ferrari whipping along a deserted country road in Blemingshire as the driver seeks to extinguish his grief over the recent death of his father by attaining high speeds while dicing vegetables in his mind. This opening scene, though, is not as unwitting as it seems for the driver, Luiz Mandibolo, a recent graduate of the Barcelona Saucier School of Saucing is actually dicing the vegetables of his vivid imagination, the ones that he dreamed would one day lead him to sauce perfection and this is something his deceased father, Antonio Schmitz Mandibolo, would never have understood nor condoned as he had devoted his life to the making, selling and admiring of chesterfields and his own patented heavily-brocaded and yet fart-proof upholstery. His father died in a tragic piano tuning accident when, curious as to what the piano tuner was doing to his antique Steinschmeltz powder-blue grand, he peered inside unfortunately at the same time the lid gave way and came crashing down, severing Antonio Mandibolo's head and the piano tuner's hands simultaneously. As Ms. Williams so tactfully writes, considering the macabre subject matter of this opening chapter, "Gostremsky, the piano tuner, wasn't even sure what had occurred until he saw the headless body of Antonio Mandibolo slump to the floor, its neck stump pumping blood like it was emptying a Port-A-Potty. Then, from within the closed lid of the piano he heard Mandibolo's voice and the severed head was yelling, 'Hey, get your filthy piano tuner fingers out of my nose and mouth and why th'hell did you turn all the lights out.' That's when the piano tuner looked down at his own hands and realized his fingers were indeed exploring the orifices of Mandibolo's severed head as Gostremsky finally understood with horror that his hands, too, had been severed by the piano lid. His stumps spurt blood like the ebb and flow of a Bach fugue in E minor as he cried, 'My hands, my beautiful piano tuning hands,' whereupon, from inside the piano came the voice of Mandibolo again, shouting, 'Ah, put a sock in it you sissy-pants before I bite your fingers off.' Then, Mandibolo became quiet as the head finally realized it was dead and should just shut up. Gostemsky's severed hands though, still continued to move, trying to pluck out a sonata on the piano strings but it sounded like Beethoven dropping dried dog feces on an out-of-tune harpsichord."
With that tragedy fresh in the reader's mind, Ms. Williams pulls no punches as she then has Luiz Mandibolo, distracted by his vegetable dicing fantasies and thoughts of his father's sudden passing, not notice a sharp turn in the country road and he crashes his silver Ferrari into the rock face of a narrow gorge that divides a couple of sheep farms with its towering cliffs, roiling river and ancient burial ground for palaeolithic fish and chips. The car bursts into flames, as befitting a fully gassed-up Ferrari (no mean feat with gas prices in Britain these days) and Mandibolo, trapped in his seat and with a brain contusion the size of Babe Ruth's RBI stats from 1922, is close to being burned to a crisp. That's when the plot takes a turn for the erotic when from a nearby animal sanctuary, Holly Forge, who had been tending an injured wombat, hears the crash and comes rushing over on her three-wheeled animal sanctuary rescue scooter, the little siren on its handlebars wailing like a midget banshee that's just stepped on a thumbtack.
Quickly assessing the situation Holly strips off her halter top "revealing her full breasts as seductive as ripe fruit." She uses the halter top to bat out the flames and then pull Mandibolo to safety. Her years of experience at the animal sanctuary have provided her with an exceptional knowledge of first aid and with not a moment to lose, she ties some rope to Mandibolo's leg and the other end to her rescue scooter and then drags him back to her house through the dirt and weeds, the better to get him into her makeshift animal hospital where she can tend to his injuries and the new wounds caused by the scooter dragging.
It's here where I have a bone to pick with the author because when you have an opening chapter as riveting and realistic as this one, it only hurts your plot when you then have Holly compare human and wombat physiology as she bandages Mandibolo's wounds. Also, I have a problem with "breasts as seductive as ripe fruit." I don't find ripe fruit or any fruit for that matter seductive. Liver and onions, yes. Pickled cabbage, absolutely but breasts compared to ripe fruit is about seductive as a goiter covered in lint. As the author writes:
"'Marsupial or mammal,' Holly pondered as her wondrous breasts hove into Mandibolo's view. He lay on a surgical table in the animal sanctuary hospital and on the neighbouring table was either a dead or sleeping kangaroo. Breathing unevenly due to his head contusion, he flung his head back, nostrils flared, eyes half-closed before cupping those breasts in his big hands and rubbing the pads of his thumbs over the distended, swollen peaks of her large, circular nipples.
'What are you thinking about?' Mandibolo asked.
'The difference between marsupial and mammal physiology and how, I believe, they are one and the same,' Holly moaned as Mandibolo now licked and nibbled at her heavy and heaving mammaries. She had used the halter top to bandage his head.
'You are a fascinating woman,' Mandibolo said. 'Tell me, is that kangaroo next to us dead?'
'No, just sleeping. Don't wake him, I'm treating him for insomnia.'
'My trousers are bloody. You will have to take them off. Underneath them you will find my throbbing enchilada. Don't be afraid.'
'Yes, okay,' Holly replied, as if in a trance. Already she could see the thrust of his erection so strong that it seemed as if it would break the teeth of the zipper that constrained it.
Soon, the two mammals met as the marsupial slept, their bodies moving in harmony in a bubble of ecstasy and then the moment came quickly, the shuddering of mind and body, muscle and sinew, his antennae picking up the signals of her moans as he thrust one final time and then felt the desire leave his loins like a rushing, swollen mountain river in the springtime. It was only then that Holly let herself go and felt the torrent of her self-defenses disintegrate like lace panties devoured by a swarm of freshly hatched moths, ravenous after being imprisoned so long in their cocoons."
The fact that Ms. Williams could even conceive that readers would believe that mammals and marsupials might share similar physiological traits, that they might even be descended from the same evolutionary tree, simply astounds me. I mean, I have to hand it to her that she gets right down to the sexual nitty-gritty, not letting a blazing car crash get in the way of the feverish coupling, but still, she loses me with her anatomy lesson not to mention Holly's questionable first aid techniques and a halter top would surely have been far more convincing as a tourniquet rather than as a head bandage. I have a few halter tops I've found in the garbage bins of the condo complex and through various experiments at home have found their tourniquet qualities are exceptional. Wrapped around the head though, especially with a contusion present, their paltry fabric is ill-suited to having any healing properties. Wrapped around the groin area though, the halter top has an amazing effect on controlling blood flow.
As it turns out, Luiz Mandibolo is a billionaire after inheriting the chesterfield business from his father. You wouldn't think selling chesterfields would be that lucrative but it is when they're filled with cocaine. Which is why the business was originally based in the family's home country of Brazil but after his father's death Luiz relocated the company to Chesterfield in Britain so that he could say his chesterfields came from Chesterfield, England and also because the British turned out to be crazy for cocaine and also methamphetamine that Luiz was cooking up in Blemingshire, which is where he was headed when he crashed into the gorge wall. As much as Luiz liked the money he hated chesterfields and was often heard in the local pub deriding chesterfields after six or seven pints but singing the praises of sofas to anyone within earshot. "Are they not one and the same?" a local once asked him only to receive a pint glass across the face, so passionate was Luiz about the differences between these long seats.
Holly was his complete opposite, having come from farm stock and grown up around animals all her life, to the point where she was comfortable sitting down at the dinner table for some bubble and squeak while her father fornicated with a goat against the wainscoting. Her father had been good to her but died when she was young, the tragic result of some faulty plumbing (his own, not the plumbing in the lavatory), but he left her the farm that she, over time, turned into Roscoe's Animal Sanctuary. She named it Roscoe after her father's favourite goat, a tribute to him and the special kinship he had with his barnyard friends.
With these characters' backgrounds firmly in place, Ms. Williams is free to declare rutting season officially open, mammals, marsupials and even amphibians going at it with all the biological diversity this planet has to offer, which is always good for keeping the reader's attention with the dirty bits but as far as plot line goes, well, I've found more intrigue reading the ingredients on a box of Weetabix. It's not for a lack of trying, though. Ms. Williams really sexes up a paragraph but the personalities behind the groins, groans, grunts and grinding are often left wanting, not sexually of course, but emotionally and also socially as they forgo friends and family in the pursuit of their own selfish pleasures and the steamrollering of each others' pelvises like they were laying hot asphalt on a makeshift drag strip on the outskirts of town where soon many will die in the pursuit of amateur racing glory and the aisles of the Super Fresh Mart will demand continual mopping because of the tears their beloved shed late at night while gathering peanut brittle, floor wax and condoms in their eternal sorrow, such is the way it is with love and mourning North American style.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist or nuclear physicist or one of those people who saws the skullcaps off of primates and replaces them with plexiglass coverings so as to examine their working brains under the stimulus of kindergarten toys to know where this story is going. It isn't long before Luiz and Holly are shacked up at Roscoe's Animal Sanctuary, spending most of their days naked and lolling about like three-toed sloths between bursts of orgasmic frenzy. They even try to get the three-toed sloth at the sanctuary (receiving treatment after losing a toe during a skiing accident in the French Alps) to join in some of their hanky-panky in a menage-a-sloth-trois but luckily he was having none of their shenanigans, thus sparing the reader what could have become some very disturbing sex scenes.
This kind of post-coital languor though allows Holly and Luiz to get to know each other better and the author attempts to paint more rounded portraits of the characters beyond the panting and coupling and groin-grinding but I deduce that Ms. Williams is much too in love with the fleshier side of the writing and purple prose soon gives way to purple penis heads, perpendicular nipples and squeaky beds as evidenced in this passage:
"A man in the company of such a beautiful woman can sometimes discover he's a poet against all odds," Luiz said and then laughed crazily. Holly tried to hold on to her common sense as Luiz slipped his fingers under the spaghetti straps of her sun dress. He tugged the dress down to her waist and groaned in a husky undertone, "God, you're beautiful, you sting my eyes like a thousand jellyfish."
"Stop talking," Holly begged as his words turned her to jelly, though whether it was grape, raspberry or Portuguese man o'war was anybody's guess.
"You prefer a man of action. That's good. Because I'm an action guy." As if to prove this point he rolled his thumbs over her nipples as he felt his own arousal pushing impatiently at his zipper, like an elevator stuck between floors at the Eiffel Tower. "You have such sensitive breasts," he murmured, "especially when I do this to your nipples...and when I suck them..." Luiz attacked them like a caveman on a piece of mammoth meat. He made meat sucking sounds as he drawled, "I love my mother, but even she was not an effective chaperone when I went haywire with caveman desire. Let me show you how a caveman behaves." His breathing became ragged sounding very much like cicadas with sprained legs as Holly circled his flat, brown nipples with her fingers. Luiz, in turn, trailed his fingers over the patch of soft, downy hair between her thighs and Holly parted her legs very slightly so that his roving hand could find that special place where she kept her biscuits and gravy. She arched back with a soft moan as he slipped two fingers between the folds of her femininity and then gently began to rub her sensitized clitoris which throbbed and pulsed much like the massive erection Holly took in her hand and controlled like the stick-shift of the Ferrari he had crashed into the cliff wall only days earlier. But this was a different kind of crash they were going to experience, a crash of the senses, of pleasure, of distended buds and pulsating scrotums, all caught in an onslaught of licking and suckling and the slick sound of tongues finding fleshy grooves that were usually only caressed by the rub of underpants and highly-elasticized hosiery but were now set free to be explored in an inexorable path of pleasure and soon wave upon wave of sensation carried them both away, far from planet Earth, far from England, far from insomniac kangaroos and incontinent wombats and when their eyelids finally fluttered shut from the disposal of their bodies' energies and dispersal of fluids, the last ebbs of their simultaneous orgasms causing their limbs to twitch against the beach towels and pneumatic mattress, Luiz said, "That was good intercourse but now I could use a snack."
"Don't be silly," Holly replied. "There's lemonade and cheese right next to your leg. Your mother sent it. I hope we can always be this happy."
"Of course," Luiz replied. "As long as we can always be naked like this amongst nature and convalescing animals and that you could never paint me or my huge erections into a box or that your vagina would cease to be an open field stretching out as far as the horizon or that you would not feel free to make as much noise as you want while I attend to your throbbing breasts and wind-up puppet nipples."
"You are a poet," Holly whispered as her gloriously wanton and womanly scent caught the afternoon breeze like a late passenger boarding a helicopter bound for the Amazon. "Even if my bitterness becomes bigger than my love we will always have a wobbly house, a child born out of wedlock and your trouser pockets driven by demons of lust."
Hogwash! That's right, hogwash! That's all I could think after reading this section and by hogwash I mean the hog that Holly was supposed to wash but neglected to do so when she so selfishly decided to have a lovemaking marathon with Luiz instead. This action might be the most insightful perspective the author offers us into the minds of her characters. Perhaps romance, in Ms. Williams' brain, is just a higher form of selfishness with interlocking penises and vaginas. And nipples protruding like nail heads on a sun-warped patio deck. While a poor unwashed pig grunts for its caregiver, a caregiver too busy doing the pant-less mambo on an air mattress slick with the sweat of sexual exertions and forgetfulness born of misbegotten desire. For Holly has responsibilities to those unfortunate souls who inhabit her animal sanctuary but she seems to forget all about their woes as she sates herself again and again on Luiz's magic horn of fertility.
I was ready to throw this book back in the garbage bin from whence I found it when a sudden plot twist had me back in the story saddle again. If I had spurs on I would've driven them hard into the flanks of this filly and ridden the narrative to a photo finish and maybe picked up a little moolah on a boxed exactor in the process. Sacrificing character depth and motivation for plot action the author, nevertheless, launches the reader into a whirlwind of international intrigue, murder, equestrian sports and baby-making. Holly goes off to Portugal to purchase some cut-rate castrating forceps and emasculators as she's thinking of going into the kangaroo meat business and castration is the logical course to fatten up the marsupials for eventual slaughter but while there she bumps into an old flame, Vladimir Casella, now a famous actor constantly hounded by the paparazzi, his four previous wives and his sixteen children and in Portugal to open the annual sardine festival. Known for his award-winning roles in films such as Penelope's Femur and The Stool Softeners of Strasbourg, he spots Holly as he's sauntering down the red carpet to a premiere of his newest movie, Petri Dish Dreams. They rekindle the old erotic flame, spark up the Bunsen burner of test tube burbling desire and then Holly slinks back to Blemingshire, ashamed and unknowingly pregnant but putting on an innocent poker face for her beloved Luiz, who has been bathing the pig while she was away and even singing the insomniac kangaroo to sleep (all for naught of course since it's about to take the 'big sleep' once Holly butchers it for its meat while it's fitfully sleeping).
Once Holly realizes she's pregnant, at first she thinks of hiding the pregnancy from Luiz and tucking the newborn baby into the pouch of one of her recuperating marsupials and taping a long cardboard snout, feet and ears to its body to pass it off as a genuine kangaroo baby but then realizes, with the amount of mounting of her Luiz has been doing, he would never know the baby wasn't his but Vladimir Casella's instead. So she bathes in the glow of her new found motherhood (which has no similarity to bathing a distressed pig), and when the child is born, Luiz is ecstatic, ignorant of the truth behind their bundle of joy.
Life seems serene at the animal sanctuary with baby Fenton and his adoring parents but as is usually the case with these pastoral settings something ugly is writhing and rising in the muck and manure of the moors. Unbeknownst to Luiz, Holly has been importing diseased marsupials from Australia into England (completely against British marsupial import laws), to fatten them up for her kangaroo and wallaby meat trade, covering up her nefarious scheme by launching the first-ever equestrian chesterfield jumping competition (the chesterfields supplied by the Mandibolo Chesterfield Company of course), and top riders from around the world fly to Blemingshire to compete with their horses in jumping all manner and styles of chesterfields (and the occasional sofa and loveseat).
Meanwhile, Luiz Mandibolo is not who he seems and one day he takes Holly aside out back of the kangaroo pen and tells her bluntly in this scintillating passage:
"My name is not Luiz Mandibolo. I am actually Luiza Gomez a.k.a. Cecelia Follone, a raven-haired beauty who speaks fluent Portuguese."
"But...but...I don't understand!" Holly cried. "Isn't your father Antonio Schmitz Mandibolo and don't you own the Mandibolo Chesterfield Company? And aren't you a man because if you're not, what is that thing you've been sticking into my femininity?"
"Holly, my dear Holly. Where to begin? Well, let me start at the beginning. It's true that Antonio Mandibolo is my father but in name only and his last name was originally Follone. For my mother, Madinga, had an affair with a wealthy Brazilian toupee and wig maker by the name of Clifford de Sauza Gomez, after they met when he came to measure my father for a hairpiece. I was the result of that lusty fling but my father never knew and considered me his own daughter. My mother died soon after I was born when a special wig Clifford had made for her caught fire while she was serving barbequed meat skewers to my father and his cronies while they were playing dominoes. They tried to put out the fire by beating her head with meat sticks but alas, by the time they had snuffed out the flames it was too late. And yes, I was born a girl and grew up to be a ravishing woman, impetuous and privileged thanks to my father's cocaine-stuffed chesterfield business but I turned my back on the company, training to be a saucier instead because nothing satisfied me more than seeing the look on men's faces when they watched me dicing vegetables in high heels and constructing perfect red wine reductions and organ meat-based gravies which I still consider to be my specialty. But my father would hear nothing of it and pressured me back into the family business by threatening to cut off my inheritance and then he sent me as a ride-along on a cocaine heist to ensure the security of the stolen goods since he didn't trust his hired thugs but he ended up double-crossing the Mafia and I was forced to get a sex-change to hide my identity for fear of a reprisal killing. I came to Europe and finally settled here in Chesterfield, changing the name of the company from Follone to Mandibolo and branching out into methamphetamine and loveseats. The money was easy and so were the women who fell my way, that is, until I met you and fell head over heels in love. But now Mafia hitmen have learned of my whereabouts and sex-change and are gunning for me. I fear for both you and baby Fenton because these men will stop at nothing and will show no mercy when it comes to me and my family."
"Luiz, I don't understand. How can you be such a man with legs that show their muscular strength beneath the fabric of your faded black jeans while you walk seductively along the Turkish carpeting and satisfy me as a woman so completely when you yourself are also a woman too?" Behind Holly a half-light came filtering in through the majestic Dutch-elm diseased trees and from the pen came the grunts and barks of equally diseased kangaroos and wallabies, waiting to be slaughtered for their meat.
"Haven't you noticed, Holly, that my nipples are bigger, darker, more succulent than any man's should ever be, as if readying themselves for suckling a baby. As for my penis, it came off of a well-endowed dead drug lord in the San Paulo morgue. I had it put on properly in Switzerland along with further hormone treatments and various aftershaves. The result, I think you could say, is most convincing."
"I've had a dead drug lord's penis inside me," Holly exclaimed. "How exciting! But I too have something to confess. Our child, Fenton, is the result of the congress between myself and Vladimir Casella, the famous actor. It was a momentary lapse of judgement and for this I apologize. But my heart belongs to you, Luiz, and to you alone. I hope you can accept Fenton as your own child and find it in your heart to forgive me so that our loins can continue to meet as friends, lovers and spiritual allies. I promise to eat any internal organ sauce you throw at me." Perhaps it was these last words that won Luiz over, playing to the suppressed saucier inside of him and they threw their arms around each other, their hearts beating together and soon they could only express their love for each other in torrents of monosyllabic mutterings and mutual nipple sucking.
In the opening of this review I did promise you, the readers, an explanation of how babies and bears are not so dissimilar. Well, baby Fenton was called into duty, dressed in a tiny bear suit and put to the task of whipping up the crowd into a frenzy at the equestrian chesterfield jumping competitions. Part of his job was mauling the spectators, not a far stretch for him considering he was teething. This would seem to be a sunny spot to end the book on top of Luiz and Holly's newly regained love but Ms. Williams has other things in mind. I won't give it away but don't be surprised to find Mafioso hit men squaring off against crazed kangaroos pumped up on methamphetamine, a baby dressed as a bear chewing his father's head off in a kind of Oedipus Rex bear complex scenario, government agencies trying to stop an illegal diseased marsupial trade and another sex change operation but by whom, well, you'll have to read the book to find out.
Truly, despite a disappointing beginning, this book turned out to be a real page turner, even if it's not a semen-encrusted page-sticker, which is no mean feat when you're trying to concentrate on stroking your penis, reading and checking on your canned ravioli on the hotplate simultaneously while your landlady's cat, in heat, claws at your door and yowls like she's on a hot tin roof. Or hot aluminum siding in this case. We can only ask so much from our romantic literature and Ms. Williams, in the end, fulfills all these criteria in spades, not withstanding the cat-in-heat urine spray, the burned Chef Boyardee ravioli and the phone call from the collection agency at the most ecstatic point of the evening. But isn't that what romance is all about. The ability to withstand and endure all manner of obstacles thrown in its way, a Romeo and Juliet love story playing out in a heart-rending tragic finale or as another great couple, this time of the silver screen once said, "We'll always have Paris. And diarrhea. And careless whispers. And hairless nipples. And Nazis. And sheep's head stew." Well, with Ms. Williams now in the romance game you might want to add incontinent kangaroos to that list. And it's true what they say that love conquers all, even if you're a chesterfield and drug kingpin from Brazil who has undergone a sex change and is smuggling cocaine in the pouches of over-the-hill and ailing marsupials that are bound for the slaughterhouse to be turned into canned luncheon meat. Now if only Holly had washed that hog this book would be getting five out of five stars instead of only four. But there's always room for improvement when it comes to harnessing the power behind the loins of desire and though I am a romantic at heart I also believe in tough love when it comes to unwashed animals. Especially around their nipples.