In Matthew DicksCaroline Jacobs is not the type of woman anyone would call feisty and assertive. She is an admitted wimp who stands on the sidelines and doesn’t stand up for herself, let alone for anyone else.
But then Mary Kate Denali, the twin-set wearing queen bee, alpha bitch of the local PTO goes off on a condescending verbal smackdown towards another member. Not liking how this member is being harassed, Caroline defies Mary Kate and her rude remarks using the rather colorful word-yes, that one-the King Kahuna of cuss words.
Mary Kate, not used to be called out on her middle-aged mean girl schtick, clutches her pearls in shock. How dare anyone defy the grande doyenne of the PTO with such crude language. But instead of backing down and apologizing, Caroline gets fired up. Her daughter, Polly, defends her mother by getting physical with Mary Kate’s daughter. Polly is called into the principal’s office and threatened with suspension.
When Caroline collects Polly from the principal’s office she makes a split decision that sets The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs in motion. Without stopping back home for even a change of clothes or a quick explanation to her husband on her scheme, Caroline decides to drive back to her hometown to confront old school chum turned high school tormentor, Emily.
While on this many mile road trip, Caroline tells Polly the tale of how she and Emily were as thick as thieves through most of their childhood until Emily became friends with one of the most popular girls at their high school and rejected Caroline in the most humiliating and public way-within the confines of their school’s cafeteria. Shudder.
Or as Obi-Wan Kenobi aptly put it in Star Wars:
“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Caroline and Polly can’t exactly be described as close, especially considering Polly is in her difficult teen years and Caroline is a self-described wuss. But during their journey to Caroline’s hometown, mother and daughter begin to bond as Caroline describes how this moment of teen betrayal affected her and continues to affect her. Polly is a bit troubled by her mom’s confession and at the same time wants her mother to grow a pair; in other words, Polly totally wants Caroline to confront that trifling bitch Emily.
Before Caroline confronts Emily she makes a pit stop at her mother’s house. To say Caroline’s mother is a character is putting it mildly. She runs a pet burial service and has a host of wacky friends, including a boyfriend named Spartacus.
But Caroline doesn’t have time to bond with her mom. She finds out Emily is still living in her hometown. Caroline picks herself up by her bra straps and confronts Emily and her teen-aged traitorous ways. But as much as Caroline despises Emily, she also feels some compassion for her as she learns why Emily conducted herself the way she did back in highschool and how she is coping with a family life that isn’t all what it may seem on the surface. Furthermore, Polly does something that sets the story in another direction and helps repair the frays of Caroline’s hurt past feelings.
To say I loved The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is an understatement. Dicks is a masterful writer, fully empathizing with his characters, shading them with rich details that never come across as false. It probably helps that he worked in education and has some perspective on the high school experience. But I also think he is a very empathetic person, and having empathy is desperately needed when writing a novel. I can easily see The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs (someone call Tina Fey’s agent, stat!) but for now I will appreciate this treasure of a book as one of the best works of fiction I’ve read in a long time.