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Shoulder Season


Shoulder Season

Combining the allure of the iconic Playboy Bunnies with an all-consuming coming-of-age tale, Christina Clancy, author of THE SECOND HOME, pens another impressive page-turner with SHOULDER SEASON.

The year is 1981, and sex, drugs, and rock and roll have taken hold of the nation. However, one place remains mostly unchanged: East Troy, Wisconsin, a quiet town where everyone goes to church, children help their parents, and no one is expected to leave for very long. For years, 19-year-old Sherri Taylor has upheld the facade of a good East Troy girl --- playing the organ at church, caring for her sick mother, and taking a backseat to her gorgeous, intimidating best friend, Roberta.

However, all of that changes when her mother dies, leaving Sherri free for the first time, but also completely unmoored. She has inherited her mother’s apartment, complete with the empty shop downstairs where her father used to repair watches. But she’s not ready to be a real estate owner, and even with her mother’s building, she’ll need some way to pay the bills. When Roberta secures her an interview at the new Playboy resort in neighboring Lake Geneva, shy, sheltered Sherri takes a chance. No one is more shocked than her when she is selected to join the glamorous girls living in the Bunny Hutch.

"Clancy uses the Playboy resort --- a complicated contradiction of women’s empowerment and men’s greed --- as a jumping-off point for one of the most beautifully researched and explored fictional works I have read all year."

There are characters who immediately pull at your heartstrings, and poor, orphaned Sherri is one of them. Hopelessly naive and desperate for an adventure, she is both the best and worst candidate for a job at the Playboy resort. She’s a hard worker with a knack for memorization --- which, as Clancy shows us, is an absolute necessity for Bunnies in training --- but she’s also unsure of her own beauty and worth as a woman.

As we follow Sherri through weeks of hardcore training, from squeezing into suits two sizes too small to learning the famous Bunny dip (a way of serving drinks that prevents them from bending at the waist in their tight costumes) and even to dealing with the hierarchy of girls living at the Hutch, we watch as she blossoms into a confident young woman with a hunger for everything life has to offer. Financially independent, beautiful and desired for the first time in her life, Sherri quickly embraces everything that comes with Bunny life, from the men to the substance abuse to the rock and roll.

Working her way up the resort hierarchy, Sherri finds herself at the height of everything she has ever dreamed of. She has a best friend, Val, to watch her back at work and in their dorm; she has enough money to buy her own car; and she even has men lavishing her with gifts and trips. But with the glamorous lifestyle comes epic pitfalls, and before long, Sherri finds herself embroiled in a brutal love triangle. She has Mitch, a gorgeous California heartthrob who is the life of every party, but she also has Arthur, a good man from back home who sees the full potential in her and wants to give her the world. It sounds like an easy choice on paper, but for a young lady enjoying the first stretches of independence, it becomes much more complicated.

With liquor, diet pills and cocaine added to the mix, Sherri becomes intoxicated by the combination of sex, desire and freedom, clinging to the idea that she can have it all indefinitely, even while her beauty and grasp on life start to fade. When she loses control of herself and her career, a horrific tragedy steals yet another opportunity for her, causing lifelong repercussions that still reverberate nearly 40 years later.

SHOULDER SEASON is a heady, dazzling delight of a novel. Clancy’s research into Bunny life is exhaustive yet incredibly fun to read. From the strict rules about appearance to the exhaustion that comes with performing all day and the sisterhood that comes with being a Bunny, she shares it all. Although the research is compelling, it would be nothing without the unforgettable character of Sherri Taylor. Sherri transforms numerous times, yet every chapter of her life is thoroughly written and full of twists and moments of growth. From her start as an orphaned young woman to her peak as a glamorous Bunny and even later as an older woman, she brims with life and a resounding courage and strong heart. Combined with Clancy’s expert attention to historical detail, Sherri’s life leaps off the page, and her love story, though painful and tragic, is rich and full of tender moments of exploration, jaw-dropping scenes of selfishness, and endless discoveries.

Rounding out Sherri’s story are the friendships she shares with the other Bunnies, a sisterhood that feels as binding as blood, as transformative as romance, and as powerful as life and death. I loved reading every moment of Sherri’s life in the Bunny Hutch, and even when I felt like shaking her, I wanted more and more from her.

I’ll admit that I never took a look at the description of SHOULDER SEASON before reading it. I loved THE SECOND HOME enough that I didn’t need to know what Clancy was writing next as long as I had it in my hands as soon as it was available. Though the setting of a Playboy resort might turn some readers away, this is not a shallow, voyeuristic tale or a gratuitously sexual one. Instead, Clancy uses the Playboy resort --- a complicated contradiction of women’s empowerment and men’s greed --- as a jumping-off point for one of the most beautifully researched and explored fictional works I have read all year.

With a lovable, frustrating protagonist, an intoxicating setting, and a riveting coming-of-age plot full of friendship, heartache and hope, SHOULDER SEASON is the perfect summer read. Those who enjoyed THE LAST BOOK PARTY, BONNIE and JUNE will devour this surprising gem of a novel.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 16, 2021

Shoulder Season
by Christina Clancy

  • Publication Date: July 12, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250761506
  • ISBN-13: 9781250761507