When my grandmother came down with a severe case of the flu about 10 years ago, my mother and I took turns sleeping on an air mattress in her room in the infirmary. Since my grandmother was asleep all day, we had a lot of time on our hands. One day I arrived to find that my mother had left behind a book called One for the Money by Janet Evanovich with a note attached: "Read this — it'll cheer you up."
I looked skeptically at the glitzy cover, but I always do what my mother says. The book was pure, unapologetic fluff. I was in a somber mood, but I devoured the whole thing in one night by the light of a tiny reading lamp. And my mother was right: It was the cheeriest, most life-affirming thing I could have wished for.
I finished it jonesing for more; luckily, it was the first of a series. During the ensuing stretch of dark winter days, my mother and I took turns racing happily through them all. Our Edith Wharton and Thomas Hardy novels lay unopened: Evanovich's busty, hapless, junk-food snarfing Jersey-girl heroine Stephanie Plum was our new best friend.
Stephanie is a bounty hunter whose klutzy derring-do and ditsy lustiness are rivaled only by her penchant for getting her cars blown up. As the series goes on, she finds herself torn between two equally hot men: Ranger, the mysterious, badass bounty hunter she tags along with to learn the ropes, and Joe Morelli, the sexy, soulful Italian cop who deflowered her at 16 and has come back for more.
Stephanie's sidekick, Lula, is a chubby, sweet former crack ho turned bounty hunter who wears spandex dresses two sizes too small, totes a gun and sits on people who try to run away before she can slap cuffs on them.
Between feeding my grandmother bites of applesauce and washing her face, I snorted with laughter at Evanovich's raunchy, punchy dialogue. These books contain not one high-minded thought or sophisticated turn of phrase. In fact, they could be seen as the literary equivalent of french fries or Hostess Twinkies. But sometimes junk food is exactly what's needed, and this was one of those times.
About a week before she died, my grandmother told me that she was not ready to go. Although she was 93, she had all her wits about her and was, aside from the flu, as healthy as I was. My family stood around her bed on Christmas Eve. As she took her last breath, her face lit up and she opened her arms. We drove back to my mother's house for Christmas and left the Stephanie Plum books behind for the next person who might need their laugh-out-loud, warm-hearted brand of trashiness.
"My Guilty Pleasure" is edited and produced by Ellen Silva