“What have you got to lose?“
Christina Clancy’s Shoulder Season is the tale of how one young, morally adrift young woman overcomes tragedy and evolves into a mature, successful woman. Shoulder Season opens in 2019 with Sherri, a special events manager at the Palm Springs Art Museum who lives an organized life “with everything she’s ever wanted.” At almost 60, she’s beautifully, tastefully dressed, her make-up is “perfect” and her nails “gleam.” To Sherri, it’s a perfect life, a life she’s worked hard to achieve, with weekly dates with friends for pinochle, golf and tennis. There’s a boyfriend too, an affluent widower. Looking at Sherri, who knows just how to smooth over egos and deftly handle wrinkles in events, you would never guess that almost forty years earlier, Sherri began her career as a playboy bunny. An email from her hometown of Troy, Wisconsin, calls her back to make a visit, and the novel slides back into the past.
Sherri, the child of a quiet watchmaker who died years before, nurses her mother through a long terminal illness. And at 18, Sherri is at loose ends in the small town of Troy, when her bolder friend, Roberta, suggests that they try out as playboy bunnies at the fairly new Lake Geneva resort. A very nervous Sherri applies, and while she needs persuading to try out for the job, Sherri is surprised to find that she really does want the job. Sherri, who’s desperate for change, gets the job while Roberta does not. Many of the bunnies live in the dorm, the work is hard, and the rules are strict, but that doesn’t stop most of the bunnies from partying hard, and Sherri joins in. She becomes the life of the party, dancing on bars, drinking heavily, experimenting with drugs, and experimenting with sex. It’s a giddying world in a way: men want to have sex with Sherri but they never see beyond the trophy aspect. And Sherri, who’s a virgin when she becomes a bunny, has no moral compass to guide her through the temptations she faces.
Sherri accepted every invitation to go out–it didn’t matter how tired she was after her shift, Now she had a reputation to manage, a persona to craft that would be different from the one she was saddled with in high school. She wanted to be not just fun but reliably fun. She was the first to shoot back a shot of Rumple Minze or Jim Beam, and the last person to step down from dancing on the bar until closing time.
As Sherri becomes swept up in being a Bunny, she forgets who she was before she put those fluffy ears on her head, but it’s easy to understand, after years of nursing her mother, why Sherri wants to become another person and lose herself in this new “tribe.” Unfortunately, Sherri is naïve and she’s also susceptible to pressure from the other bunnies. This leads to trouble, but even more it leads to tragedy.
Shoulder Season takes us on the entertaining journey that is Sherri’s life, and along the way she meets many people she’ll never forget and someone who surprises her with his kindness. People who need to ‘find themselves’ are often troubled and trouble; this is true of Sherri. Living in a world full of temptations, she makes a lot of mistakes–mostly with men. Too much too soon. As a reader, I frequently became annoyed with Sherri, and I had to remind myself she was only 19 and adrift in the world. Lots of teenagers go astray, but the Bunny aspect adds dimension to the book (as well as a lot more problems for Sherri). Many of the locals are appalled at Sherri’s decision to become a bunny, but Sherri defends her choices even though she has yet to grasp the far-reaching consequences. She doesn’t see the job as having a short shelf life or a dead end and there’s the shimmering mention of Hugh Hefner who might swoop in, or the magazines who might court bunnies for soft porn spreads.
“Stand there, against the wall, so your knees and ankles touch.” Gloria said without looking up. Gloria got up and shut the door so it was just the two of them in the room. She bent down and inspected Sherri’s kegs; Sherri realized that she was counting to see if she could see three triangles of light shining between her feet and ankles, between her ankles and knees, and between her thighs.
I listened to the audible version which was read by Karissa Vacker. The reader’s voice and style were perfect for this book.