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In the opening of Hypnotizing Chickens, we find main character Chrys Pickett leaving a teaching job, with tenure, at Western Carolina State to move in with Dr. Meredith Padgett, a plastic surgeon with a faux mansion and maid. The move is a step up for Chrys, one she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but she is glad for the relationship and the comforts of her new home. In spite of her disappointment with her new teaching job, she soldiers on, taking comfort in her relationship with her partner. But everything is not as it seems and Chrys is headed for heartbreak.
It all comes to a head for Chrys the day after her fortieth birthday. Meredith unexpectedly drops a bomb, telling her that she’s in a relationship with someone else and Chrys needs to leave the faux mansion. Then Meredith conveniently leaves town, leaving Chrys to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do with the rest of her life.
Fortunately, Chrys has a friend in Aaron, an erstwhile actor turned massage therapist. The only friend that, as Chrys refers to him, is “hers alone,” as opposed to the people she’s met over the years that were Meredith’s friends. The new girlfriend would be schmoozing with them now, she ruminates. Aaron invites Chrys to move in with him. She knows she needs to make some decisions, but the term has just ended and she has the summer to figure out the direction of her life. So she takes Aaron up on his offer and becomes a temporary roommate. Moments of witty conversation between Aaron and Chrys and Chrys and her mother punctuate the sadness and indecisiveness Chrys feels as she tries to get over being dumped for a younger woman.
In time, Chrys decides that the best place for her is back in her childhood home in the Appalachian Mountains, a place to which she never thought she’d return for more than brief visits. Precipitated by her ailing grandmother’s need for live-in help, and the last care-giver having been summarily fired for stealing pain pills, Chrys decides that going home will allow her to help grandmother, and give her time to figure out her next move. What she doesn’t expect, is a poignant relationship with her grandmother that helps both of them, and to be extremely attracted to her grandmother’s physical therapist, Dee.
Life is never easy for Chrys, it seems, because Dee is a young mother, recently divorced, and newly settled in a neighboring farmhouse with her young daughter. This causes Chrys to question the possibility of any kind of relationship between her and Dee.
The story is told with wit and wisdom. Chrys’ relationship to her back woods’ family is full of love and acceptance. Her relationship with her grandmother is tinted with tenderness and sensitivity. Her grandmother is a loveable, feisty lady who knows her mind and is only willing to accept help without compromising her dignity. It’s impossible not to love Nanny. As Chrys and Dee try to figure out their individual paths and to discover whether or not they have a future together, they gradually help each other realize what they each want in their lives.
The title, Hypnotizing Chickens, sounds like a madcap comedy, but Watts has skillfully peopled the tale with a family (and friends) trying to live the best lives they can under the circumstances they have been dealt. In short, it’s a story with a much deeper meaning and message, with just enough humorous winks and nods to tickle your funny bone.
By Julia Watts
Paperback, 9781594933967, 185 pp.