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BOOKS CULTURE Blythe Spirit BY ROBERT LELEUX How Perfect is That by Sarah Bird Knopf 320 pages, $23.95 lim ike the rest of us, Blythe Youngthe leading lady of Sarah Bird’s wicked satire How Perfect Is That has been royally screwed by the Bushes, although on a fairly more intimate level. Pardon me, not by the Bushes, by the Dixes. More specifically by her ex-husband, Trey Dix the Third, and his mother, Peggy Biggs-Dix, aka “Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS,” who happens to be a ringer for Barbara Bush. What makes me say that? For starters, Peggy Biggs-Dix, matriarch of a WASP petroleum-and-politics dynasty, has the same iron-colored hair as Babs, and she sports the same self-effacing pearls. But to my mind, the real mask-ripping moment occurs when Madame Biggs-Dix prompts the early demise of her father-inlaw by engineering a hostile takeover of his oil company. “Stop her;’ the old man whimpers. “For God’s sake, stop that evil bitch:’ Bird does provide the Dixes with some fictionalizing cover. We know for certain that this superrich clan of all-powerful Texas Republicans isn’t exactly the Bushes by virtue of their very proximity to them: “The Dixes and the Bushes go way, way back,” Bird assures us. Do they ever. In the recent novel American Wife, author Curtis Sittenfeld drew inspiration from Laura Bush, but Bird’s heroine resembles the infinitely more entertaining Sharon Bush. You remember Sharon, don’t you? The ruthless blonde who, after getting dumped by Neil Bush for his rich girlfriend, tried to \(allegedly, allegedly, put a voodoo curse on him. When that didn’t work, she threatened to write a spicy tell-all about her in-lawsa threat that mysteriously evaporated after her hefty Houston mortgage was paid off. While it’s nothing less than tragic that Sharon’s tell-all will probably never see the light of day, How Perfect Is That goes a long way toward assuaging our loss. At the start of this cheeky comedy of manners-cum-morality tale, Blythe Young has already been booted from her palace in Austin’s posh Pemberton Heights. Her prenup-wielding motherin-law has stripped her not only of her worldly goods, but even of the weighty Biggs-Dix surname. Attempting to maneuver her downward spiral with a little grace, Blythe has revived Wretched Xcess, her erstwhile cateringcompany-to-the-fabulous. Plans to profit from her social contacts hit a couple of snags. By snags, I mean the IRS, which shows up at Kippie Lee Teeter’s garden party just after our heroine, hoping to guarantee the success of her only paying gig, spikes the guests’ Cristal. Without even a chance to grab Kippie Lee’s check, tax-dodging Blythe is forced onto the lam. Where’s a larcenous ex-socialite to hide her weary head? Since she’s just slipped roofies to her best girlfriends, there’s no place left for Blythe besides rock bottomotherwise known as Seneca House, her old college boarding house from her povertyriddled days at UT. At this point, How Perfect Is That becomes more than a dead-aim First Family farce. From the moment Blythe sets foot in this bluestocking commune, headed by her former roommate, the saintly Millie Ott, Blythe is forced to account for her life. It’s an agonizing process filled with dingy clothes, split ends, and self-recrimination. Seneca House becomes Blythe’s Betty Ford Center, where rent-free rehabilitation is exchanged for bruising rounds of household chores. After years of living behind the eight ball, trying to stay fit and fashionable and fascinating, Blythe rediscovers simple pleasures, like sobriety and trans fat. It’s her chance to pause and reflect: All those years of making, then losing money, I hadn’t noticed that music had disappeared from my life any more than I noticed that friends, movies, ethics, sex, and Snickers bars had vanished as well. When had a Snickers bar from the freezer stopped being a treat? When had all my friends mutated into connections who slowly, then swiftly, dropped me after the divorce? Blythe realizes that Millie Ottgood, dowdy Millieis the only real friend 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 14, 2008