“The Beautiful Misfits” by Susan Reinhardt

The Beautiful Misfits is a fascinating look into three distinct industries: television journalism, luxury cosmetics sales, and addiction rehabilitation. In each world, we learn that everyone is pushing something, whether information with an agenda, unrealistic standards of perfection, drugs and alcohol, or freedom from the same.

Reinhardt’s protagonist, Josette “Josie” Nickels, ruminates on the opioid crisis:

 Isn’t that what typically fanned the flames? Telling the soccer player who broke his shin that an Oxycontin or Percocet every four hours would relieve the pain? And two refills later that soccer player taking them every two hours to relive the high. Until the dose is doubled, tripled, and addiction plants its roots.

Within the first few pages of the book, the reader learns that Josie is the mother of a drug-addicted son, Finley, whom she spends the rest of the book trying to save. Josie fortifies herself with tequila shots before going on-air as an Atlanta news anchor reporting on the arrest of a drug dealer for the heroin-overdose death of her son’s girlfriend. Is this lack of self-awareness in the character about her alcoholism a story flaw, or written ironically? We read on to find out.

Then, at the bottom of page four, the writer breaks the famous dictum taught in Writing 101: Show, don’t tell.

“…what she said next, those eighty-four seconds of spewing her business like a Baptist at altar call, went viral. And that virus snuffed out her Emmy-winning ride.”

Then we skip to One Year Later. Wait. What? What did she say on-air? Oh, we’ll find out, more than halfway through the book, part of what she said that caused the narrator to lose her job, her self-respect, and her son Finley, but the final revelation of those catastrophic moments of chaos comes almost three-quarters of the way through the story-much too late to deliver the intended impact, IMHO.

As the narrator asks, “…aren’t most women, even decent and caring women, allowed one teensy nervous breakdown?” Some of the most appealing aspects of the book are Josie’s struggle to limit herself to just one. That she does so with humor and grace is another.

Josie starts a new life as a cosmetic artist at Brigman’s Department Store in Asheville, where she suffers enough abuse at the hands of her customers, co-workers, mother, ex-husband Frank, and son to qualify her for instant martyrdom. We worry with her about Finley’s whereabouts and condition (is he or isn’t he using?) and we’re definitely convinced of her unconditional love as she navigates the murky waters of providing financial and emotional support for him without enabling his addiction.

Though many are, not everyone in Josie’s life is terrible to her. There’s Ruby, the mantra-chanting nanny who cares for Dottie, Josie’s special-needs daughter; and friends Megan and Monica from the store, who provide wine-soaked girls-night-out fun. Then there’s POG, the devastatingly handsome director of Vintage Crazy Resort and Rehab, with whom Josie may or may not have slept in the past and may or may not want to now. (She can’t remember due to blackout drinking, and he’s not talking.)

Susan Reinhardt

Will Josie overcome her dependance on alcohol? Will Finley survive the nightmare world of drug addiction? Will Josie and POG remain just friends or find happiness together in a vintage trailer on a hillside or a tropical island?  Whatever the outcome, the reader will care deeply about these “beautiful misfits.”

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