The Sweet Potato Queens Book of Love
&
God Save the Sweet Potato Queens

by Jill Conner Browne
(Three Rivers Press/Random House, $12, R)
ISBN 0-609-80413-8 & ISBN 0-609-80619-X
***

Will you like these raunchy, politically incorrect books by Southern writer Jill Conner Browne? The answer will probably be yes if you agree with the following premises:

  1. Life should be dedicated to the pursuit of Fun.
  2. Sex is good. Lots of sex is even better.
  3. Men are so different from women that they might as well be another species.
  4. All men want sex, preferably of the oral variety, all of the time. Corollary: men will do just about anything if they think there is even the most remote possibility that they will get sex in the near future.
  5. The four main food groups are: sweet, salty, fried and au gratin.

Personally, I'm lukewarm on the whole SPQ phenomenon. Head Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne is most entertaining when she documents the peculiarities of Southern life and her unapologetic pursuit of a life spent "not doing Jack sh*t." However, the romantic in me recoiled in horror at her cynical portrayal of men.

The Sweet Potato Queens debuted in Jackson Mississippi, circa 1982, for the town's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. Since then, they have allegedly become the idol of millions of women (and men). Their parade regalia includes tight green mini-dresses with padded chests and butts, big red-haired wigs, majorette boots and tiaras. But in their everyday life, they are just eight normal middle-aged women (with an entourage of Wannabee's and even Wannabee Wannabee's) who live an uninhibited life under the undisputed leadership of Head Queen Jill.

Both books provide a mix of advice on how to live the Queenly life, recipes that will never appear in Gourmet magazine (their common theme is: the more fat, the better), and tales of Southern-fried life. I like the notion that women should nourish their own "queenliness" and not be afraid to look undignified and embarrassing while they are having bucket-loads of fun.

But the male-bashing gets old pretty quickly. Now, the Sweet Potato Queens claim that they are not anti-male:

Really, we Queens love men. They taste just like chicken. Well, we can't really say that for a fact. The ones we've actually bitten were not only not cooked properly, they were alive and kicking. Shrieking, as it were...But anyway, we do love men. In theory, at least. I mean, they do sound great on paper, don't they? And we are quite the eternal optimists, we are. Even when there are no serious contenders in the game, we like to have a number of men on hand. Just to play with, you know. We think of them as cat toys.

Despite this avowal of mutual admiration, it's hard to see how the SPQ's are going to help the relationship between the sexes when they advocate using The Promise (of oral sex) to get men to do their bidding (the delivery of said Promise is totally voluntary, and reneging on The Promise is encouraged). And when their main advice is, "Treat 'em like sh*t and never give 'em any." I mentioned a few of these ideas to my dh, a normally good-humored guy, and he got very huffy. "You'd be totally pissed off if a man wrote a book like that about women," he harrumphed (Oh? And that's never been done?). So as a card-carrying feminist, I'm duty-bound to say that I was dismayed by the Queens' views on men, which are enough to set the Equal Rights movement back several centuries. On the other hand, I couldn't help admiring the male equivalent of The Promise, which consists of the six words most women are secretly yearning to hear from their guys ("Oh no, let me handle that").

If you're not offended easily, if you think the best possible marriage is one in which the husband and wife live in opposite halves of a duplex, if you love shopping in stores like The Pleasure Chest for naughty lingerie, and if you think there's no such thing as too much bacon in a recipe - well, you'll be one of those women who buys six copies of The Sweet Potato Queens' books and sends them to all of her friends. If not, give them a wide berth.

--Susan Scribner


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