|Abby Harper, waitress in her mama’s diner in Misty Creek, Kentucky, would like nothing more than to make enough money to send her brother to a top-notch college. And buy a new truck. And fix up the diner. When brother Ben announces that he’s entered an essay contest and as a result, the TV satire Dancing with the Rednecks is coming to town, Abby is astonished to find out she’s been selected as a contestant, thanks to Ben. The top prize is fifty thousand dollars. Shucks, that kind of money would solve all her problems!
The author portrays Abby as a simple-minded hick right from the get-go, so her lack of economic acuity comes as no surprise. This is lazy characterization and readers who actually live in small towns may find it pretty offensive. Pick a small-town stereotype, and it’s here in spades. Mama has big hair. Abby thinks “mundane” means “ordinary,” but she’s “not sure about political satire and whatnot.” The waitresses wear the kind of retro diner uniforms usually seen at a Halloween party. Abby’s dream car is a pickup truck. And there are lots of “y’alls.” Yee-hah.
Into this mix comes Rio Martin, who will be Abby’s dance partner/coach for the duration of the show. Rio is a sexy Latin type, born in Mexico and now living in the United States. A former championship ballroom dancer, he’s royally ticked off to find the dance show he agreed to participate in is really a send-up spoof. But he’s stuck, and soon Rio and Abby are cha-cha-ing into America’s living rooms, with surprisingly good results. Not to mention the chemistry between them, which sizzles.
Another one of the contestants is Abby’s high-school crush, who seems to be taking notice of her for the first time - when he’s not ogling his former high-school sweetheart, also a contestant. Can a former wallflower blossom into America’s newest dance darling, and capture the man of her dreams to boot? Will it be the smoldering dance star? Or the down-home mechanic?
Abby develops some smarts along the way, which was a welcome relief, but the rest of the story is pretty predictable. Think an old flame of Rio’s will show up and cause Abby to sink into self-doubt? Think Abby and Rio will give in to temptation? Think they’ll make it to the finals? To her credit, once the author lets go of the tired small-town stereotypes, the characters develop quite a bit of charm. All of the people turn out to be pretty decent sorts, and there are no true villains here.
Rio is fun. He’s attracted to Abby, though he doesn’t want to be, but it’s hard to resist when most of their days are spent in very close physical proximity. Rio is a bit more than he seems, as well, and while this doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, it does provide a basis for the Dark Moment at the end. If only Abby’s reactions weren’t right out of Romance Plots 101, it might have been more amusing.
As for Abby, the story is told not only in first-person, but also in present tense, a weird and somewhat clunky way to go about it. We only hear Abby’s thoughts, and after a while, her constant whining that she’s not pretty enough, has big feet, can’t dance, etc. gets old. It’s not until Abby decides to try and seduce Rio that things start to pick up steam, and then the romance bubbles along nicely.
If “hick shtick” doesn’t set your teeth on edge, Dancing Shoes and Honky-Tonk Blues might be a fun diversion.