"Dixie Riggs," by Sarah Gilbert, 202 pages, Warner Books, New York, N.Y., $18.95.
DIXIE RIGGS thinks she may well be a redneck, but she knows her Momma, LeDaire Riggs Rideout, is. And it turns out redneck women just wanna have fun -- and be Vanna White.
In her first novel, "Hairdo," Sarah Gilbert revealed the secrets of The Celebrity Styling Shop in Stuckey, South Carolina. In "Dixie Riggs," Gilbert takes us inside Renee Dupree's World of Fashion Modeling in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Dixie's come up from Cordele, which everybody knows is the county seat of Crisp County, Georgia, to get herself married to Buck Speed the Third. But Buck's too busy to marry Dixie, lifting weights, oiling his muscles and pumping himself up to be a televangelist
Buck's perfectly neat and perfectly clean and faintly boring in bed. His idea of afterplay is prayer. He watches a lot of TV. His favorite show is the 700 Club.
"When you look into the very heart of it," Dixie says, "love is not saying anything bad about his heroes even when you know they're down to the core rotten.
"It means loving his perfect fingernails even when you wish he'd break down and get them a little dirty."
So what's a good-looking girl from Cordele, Georgia, going to do but become a world famous model like Vanna White.
Dixie and her treacherous best friend Sparkle Starling sign up with Renee Dupree, who, as everybody knows, discovered Vanna White. Well, maybe not discovered: Renee allegedly once met Vanna in a ladies room and offered her some advice on eye shadow.
Renee's World of Fashion Modeling is off a dirt road on the edge of Myrtle Beach, which for those who've never been south of the Potomac River, say, or east of the Tombigbee, is a kind of nice resort town on the Atlantic about 20 miles north of the mouth of the Pee Dee River.
"It was as pink as a house could be," Dixie tells us. "It looked like Pepto Bismol to Sparkle. It looked like heaven to me."
Everybody tells Dixie she's so good looking she should be a model. And Buck thinks she looks good, and so does her alternate boyfriend, the sleazy Donnie Sessions, who lives in an Airstream trailer packed with porn videos, and so do the boys down at the beach by the Pavilion.
Dixie appears at Renee's wearing a sequined tube top, a black leather skirt and an imitation rabbit fur coat.
"I don't believe in real furs," she says.
She learns to do a great double French military turn on the runway at the World of Fashion.
But she's four inches shorter than a model should be and she's not real big up top. Dixie's boyfriends always tell her she's got the perfect size: "You can fit them into a wineglass, perfectly."
But as Dixie observes: "You need a little something more up top than a wineglass to win a five-hundred-dollar wet T-shirt contest."
Dixie does rise above wet T-shirts and erotic underwear and the boat show bimbo class to become an international model. She has a pair of assets that are very valuable indeed, depending, of course, on your fetish, or your fashion needs -- perfect size 6 feet.
But before success finds Dixie she manages to get herself photographed in the nude by the mean and duplicitous Sparkle. She's embarrassed by her mother, who turns up for dinner at the hardshell Baptist Speeds' with a tattooed, pony-tailed drummer half her age, which by the way is a well-preserved 39. And Dixie finds herself pregnant by Buck or Donnie, she's not sure which. We may be dealing with liberated redneck women here.
A certain folksy reflection comes out of Dixie's mouth: "I'm not stupid," she says. "I knew models had problems.
"But I knew that no matter what those problems were, they weren't as lonely and closed in as the problems of a small town girl.
"A high-fashion model could put her problems out on a leash and walk them around town. Me, my problems crushed my sides in, like a mean father grabbing your arms and shaking all the good stuff loose from you until there was nothing left but the scary bad."
All of this, one supposes, qualifies Sarah Gilbert as a Southern humorist, white trash women division. Somebody at Vanity Fair called her "the funniest woman writer from the South since Flannery O'Connor last fed the peacocks." Which I guess is a joke or maybe I haven't read enough Flannery O'Connor.
Picky folks suspicion that Gilbert's a Southern humorist for Northern readers. Her characters do act pretty much the way people who don't live in the South expect them to. And there's a certain Archie comics quality to some of this stuff.
But she can write. Her prose is swift, clean and clear. She can move a sentence as fast as Dixie peeling rubber with her yellow Dodge Charger.
Gilbert's been a hairdresser in Columbia, S.C., which is where she lives. She wrote "Hairdo" while she was studying Victorian literature at the University of South Carolina, which sounds a little bit like a joke, too.
She's been to modeling school in Columbia and she's been a car painter, a bank teller, a bartender, a cocktail waitress and a grave plot sales person. One can only hope she won't work her way through all these occupations before she gets serious.