The School of Beauty and Charm

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This is the story of the Peppers family of Counterpoint, Georgia. Henry and Florida Peppers are pertinacious Baptist parents whose dearest wishes are to keep their asthmatic son Roderick alive and their smart-ass daughter Louise from going to hell. Louise, the little hellion, tells the story.

And what a story it is, about how ponderous Henry, hysterical Florida, and hell-bent-for-rebellion Louise, awash in grief after Roderick's death at fifteen, go on living. Steady-at-the-helm, Henry buries himself in his work managing Southern Board, the local cardboard factory. Flamboyant Florida, with a fine-honed knack for losing her cool, redecorates their custom-built house, the Aerie, and takes up painting by numbers. Louise indulges her addictions: at nine, she discovers vanilla extract. After Roderick dies, she adds liquor, food, sex (at sixteen, she seduces a Southern Board laborer), and out-and-out danger, finally, at eighteen running off to join the circus (a carnival, actually). Louise gets to be the clown.

THE SCHOOL OF BEAUTY AND CHARM is a daring novel that walks a fine line between high comedy and real tragedy. But at heart, it is a moving portrait of a father and mother, two good-hearted people doing everything wrong to win back their daughter.