I recently finished a debut novel called When Love Was Clean Underwear by Susan Barr-Toman. I found it very hard to believe that this was her first novel – it was very good, and she is an excellent writer.
When Love Was Clean Underwear is about Lucy Pescitelli, a thirty year-old woman living with her mother in South Philadelphia. Her mother is sour, domineering, and manipulative, so much so that she convinces Lucy to euthanize her as she is at the end stages of lung cancer. That event jumpstarts the book, which follows Lucy in the months after her mother's death as she tries to make a life for herself on her own.
This is just a beautifully written book. Barr-Toman's writing is understated and quiet (like Lucy), but she tells an engaging, suspenseful story about a belated coming-of age that I couldn't wait to finish. Lucy is passive and timid, but Barr-Toman manages to craft a juggernaut of a book, thanks to witty witing and a strong cast of supporting characters that includes Lucy's bitter, dominant older sister Anne, her spinster neighbors and two suitors. These characters are keenly observed and richly drawn.
I really can't say enough good things about this book. Susan Barr-Toman is a first-time author who worked with a small publisher with no marketing budget. I'd love to help get the word out more about When Love Was Clean Underwear – please give it a try! You will not be disappointed. And you will have a hard time believing that this Barr-Toman's first novel.
Susan Barr-Toman was kind enough to answer some questions for me about her book, her writing habits, and the South Philly setting. I will post them later this week – they are a lot of fun to read.
Thanks to Susan Barr-Toman for the review copy of When Love Was Clean Underwear. (Yeah, FTC, that's where I got it.)