penelope

"Penelope Lemon, Game On"

by Inman Majors, LSU Press, $25.95, 232 pages, hardcover

Penelope Lemon is 40, the ink not yet dry on her second set of divorce papers. She's a waitress at Coonskins, a fast-food joint with a Davy Crockett motif. She and her 9-year-old son, Theo, are bunking with her mother and stepfather while her recently-divorced husband, James, has just acquired a new home in one of the tony suburbs of the small Virginia town where they all live, physically at least.

They all boast a healthy online alternative life. Penelope is signed on to two dating sites: one a Christian match-up service on her cellphone and the other a more traditional online dating service on her computer. Theo is a gamer. He cares more about a video game called “Gorzormo” than any encounters with flesh-and-blood playmates. James, an accountant, spends plenty of time on his Facebook page. Penelope knows this because she cyberstalks him to keep tabs on what he does when he has Theo for the weekend.

Penelope knows all this is not really healthy. She desperately wants to escape her mother and stepfather’s basement, especially since her aunt and sleepwalking uncle are coming soon for a monthlong visit. They'll be occupying the same basement and sharing its one bathroom with Penelope. That’s why Penelope is so focused on working as hard and as long as she can at Coonskins. She wants some normalcy for her and Theo, a place of their own. And that's why she enrolls Theo in youth baseball.

“The only reason she’d signed him up for baseball was in the hope he’d find some playmates.” It hadn’t worked. Theo was a terrible athlete, who struck out every time he was up to bat. Mostly, he didn’t even swing.

"Penelope Lemon, Game On" is really a coming-of-age story. Sure, Penelope is 40, has been married twice and is a mother of a 9-year-old. She has had plenty of experience, often touted as the best teacher of all. That’s all true, but this little novel charts a voyage of self-discovery, a quest to define the self-aided by internet dating sites, smartphone texting, humor and sarcasm. Penelope is trying to grow up and handle her own life. She is coming of age.

Majors, in his wry and entertaining way, has created a heroine who, despite all her plugged-in, online communications tools and web presence, is really a traditional woman who wants a dependable job, a dependable income and a place of her own — not in cyberspace. She wants to be a good mother (and she is). Penelope has come to realize that when the game is on and you are at bat, you really do want to get a hit. Henceforth, that indelible truth informs all of Penelope’s actions and helps her navigate her improbable and comic life. Join her on the journey, and you will find yourself rooting for Penelope to hit a home run.