It's 1962, and Dora Witherspoon has gotten a divorce and moved back to her hometown of Naples, Florida, where the only job she can get is to work for her cousin at the postal service. Because she got divorced, she's a social pariah and doesn't have much going on for herself beyond rescuing turtles. And then she meets Jackie Hart, a Boston woman who's recently moved to Florida because her husband got a job working for the town bigwig. Jackie stands out even beyond being a Yankee--she's got bright red hair and she's glamorous as hell. Jackie's also willing to take risks. She starts the title literary society, which attracts pretty much the other town weirdos--the librarian, a black maid named Priscilla who loves to read and secretly wants to go to college, Mrs. Bailey White, who just got out of jail for murdering her husband, a poet who calls herself "Plain Jane," and Robbie-Lee, the town's only homosexual. They all become friends and investigate different things to read, such as The Feminine Mystique and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Even though Dora is the narrator, she primarily focuses on Jackie as her top subject matter. Jackie finds moving to the South to be really hard to deal with, especially when she gets into trouble--or worse, gets other people into trouble--because she doesn't already know the social mores. She's also getting REALLY fed up with being nothing but just a housewife and dealing with her kids--her son Jude/Judd (he has to get a Southern rename in order to make friends) is okay, but her twin daughters are so awful they don't even get names. So she takes on a publicly part-time job at the town newspaper--and a private job as the title character "Miss Dreamsville," an anonymous radio talk show host that everyone's talking about. And when she reads The Feminine Mystique, it about sets her on fire. She also especially bonds with Jane, who's already maintaining a secret writing career.
Most of the group has some interesting secrets that are found out during the course of the book, and almost everything ends up coming out to the group members at some point. They also try to help each other out, especially Priscilla, who has drastically different experiences from the rest of them. But when one night Jackie is carpooling the society members home, they run into a bad situation...and suddenly Jackie, and possibly her friends, are the ones in trouble instead of the bad guys. Oh, the South....
So I enjoyed reading this book and breezed on through it. (I picked this one out for my mom to read and she was so delighted with it she passed it back.) Jackie is a fun, vivid character to read about, as are some other folks. You don't see all that much of Robbie-Lee's stripper-turned-gator-hunter(!!!) mom Dolores, but she's memorable. You feel for Priscilla and Mrs. Bailey White in particular, and you definitely get a sense of Jackie's frustration. And I have to say that the final chapter that focuses pretty exclusively on the pickle Jackie's in is handled both smartly and amusingly. (And proves the point that you should never leave your house without being fully dressed, even to get the newspaper off the lawn. There's a reason why Southern ladies do that.)
If there's anything that's a bit amiss with this book, it's that not every character gets developed very well. Robbie-Lee and Mrs. Bailey White could have used a bit more detail, but they're still doing better than others. The poor librarian is pretty much left out of things because she's not in the carpool. And for a narrator, Dora herself gets short shrift. I get the feeling that she's Nick to Jackie's Gatsby. While pretty much everyone else has some kind of dramatic secret or other, Dora...doesn't? The woman got a divorce, which pretty much ruined her socially. You're going to reasonably expect that Dora had to want that divorce very, very badly for a reason to take that step. But when she's finally asked why she did it, she...doesn't really answer why, other than to tell a story about climbing a tree with her her ex-husband as a kid and to hint that her ex is really just about money. That's it?! We're told that Dora's a storyteller and that's her thing--but she's not super interested in her own story enough to tell it. (Literally.) Even Dora herself thinks she's dull. I honestly can't say that I get why the author made her narrator one of the most relatively generic people in the book. I would have liked to have seen Dora get out of her (turtle?) shell more in the way that other folks were doing.
So overall, I'm giving it three and a half stars. It's a good book and I recommend it, I just kind of wish some folks had gotten more to them than they had.