By Pamela Tarajcak
Consuelo’s Kiss is the fifth installment in Gifford’s Sailor and Lula Series. It takes place twelve years after the events in Sultans of Africa.
Consuelo Whynot, a 16 year old vamp, opens the book by hitching a ride from a man called Wesley Nisbet. Consuelo is going to Oxford to find “the woman of her dreams.” Sailor and Lula are planning a trip to Memphis to honor Sailor’s Fiftieth Birthday. They are finishing arrangements, especially making sure Beaney and Madonna Kim take care of Lula’s worms when Marietta calls announcing that she has a houseguest, the newly released and practically dying from heart problems, Marcello Santos. Moreover, it turns out that Johnnie and he had patched things up and are good friends now. The three of them watch TV at Marrietta’s house every day or if Marietta’s at a “Daughters of the Confederacy ” meeting the men still hang out together at the Fortune residence. “Funny how we end up wheezin’ in armchairs like this, in the parlor of a woman we both been chasin’ after for decades” (462) one of them contemplates. Pace is somewhere in Asia being a mountain guide. (Lula still is not aware of anything that went on when he was fifteen.)
While Lula and Sailor set off on their journey and have a rather uneventful first half (and name dropping that they like actor Harry Dean Stanton in one conversation), Consuelo tells Nisbet that she is planning on reuniting with her girlfriend Venus, a half-Native poet who is a College student. This strikes Wesley’s fancy in a bad way which concerns Consuelo, reading him correctly. Halfway there, after Consuelo touches base with Venus, she sees a couple in an old vehicle and asks for a ride, feeling Wesley is up to no good. The couple is, of course, Sailor and Lula who, out of the kindness of their hearts, allow “Venus” to ride with them as far as Batesville. Meanwhile, Marrietta talks to Dal after a Daughters’ meeting and says “Dal, I’m thinkin’ I might just marry Marcello. He ain’t got long to go.” (478). Dal is happy that Marrietta’s finally decided on something and knows just the dress that Marrietta should wear. But before she can fully accept Santos, Marrietta asks him for the complete truth about Mona’s death. He gives it to her and their relationship is more open and truthful now.
After dropping off Consuelo (she does eventually give her real name to them) at Batesville, Sailor and Lula proceed to Memphis worried about her a bit. Consuelo gets re-picked up by Wesley who had been tailing Sailor and Lula and they make it to Oxford where Consuelo abandons Wesley at a bar and reunites joyfully with Venus. As Sailor and Lula check into the hotel in Memphis, they coincidentally reunite with two men, Sparky and Buddy, whom they knew in Big Tuna. The two run an Organ Retrieval Service (a human organ trafficking business) and while catching up, Sailor reveals that he’s Vice President at Gator Gone. As Sailor and Lula are heading out to Graceland on the last bit of their trip, they get several pieces of news. One, after a murder of Wesley and Venus’s accidental death, Consuelo is in police custody. Two, Marrietta and hospitalized Santos are going to marry. Three, Johnnie also hospitalized, another hospital, has kidney failure and needs an immediate transplant. Lula wants to help Johnnie so she and Sailor ask Sparky and Buddy for a favor. They miss Graceland in favor of traveling to Oxford to help Consuelo out of a spirit of charity. When they get there, Consuelo gives the whole sordid story. After granting Wesley his desire of “Consuelo’s kiss,” he orders for more, specifically watching Venus and Consuelo engage in sexual acts, enangering Venus causing her to kill him. It devolved from there. The sheriff lets Consuelo go without charging her.
After dropping Consuelo off with her family, they contemplate her sad life and wish they could do more. When they get home, Sailor and Lula learn that Marrietta did marry Santos only for him to die hours after, Johnnie did get his kidney (Sparky, Buddy and John Gray came through) and stood as best man, Pace writes saying he’s engaged to a Jewish New-Yorker named Rhoda Gombowicz. They are in shock over all the news. Oh, and Lula’s worms died!
This book had the slimmest and most straightforward of all the plots save Perdita Durango. The plot was interesting and it was almost gentle. All of the lurid crimes happen off screen. There are no real villains. Also it’s really refreshing how Sailor and Lula accepts Consuelo’s sexual orientation. Also wonderful how Gifford wrote her to be three dimensional. Seeing Sailor and Lula or their family not be in trouble, cause trouble, or have trouble after them was so refreshing. Unlike in Sultans of Africa, Gifford remembered his characters and how they would react. Sailor and Lula were both open with each other and Pace (through his letter) is again a well-adjusted and deep character.
Johnnie and Santos’s reconciliation was unexpected but almost beautiful in how they became friends and how those three formed an odd but oh, so healthy relationship in their twilight years. Lula and Sailor becoming “that couple” who just help others felt so natural and organically beautiful from being the couple in need of help. It was wonderful to have all the old gang back together for this one too. The only one that was missing was Perdita, the reader still doesn’t know what happened to her after Poppy’s death. It seems as if she is a character that just dropped off the face of the earth.
There were still those wonderful slice-of-life conversations and in-depth character explorations that Gifford had in previous books. He also still had the fast-paced plot and witty dialog, the ending had me laughing. With that unchanged, and this plot being simply a wonderfully fresh and gentle book, Consuelo’s Kiss became the second best book in the series right after Wild at Heart.
The version of the book I quote from is:
Gifford, Barry. Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2010. The Barnes and Noble Nook E-Book edition.