May Cobb’s Texas Noir

Author’s juicy beach-read novels dig into the social mores that underpin women’s lives

May Cobb specializes in women who do what they want, even if the small-town, small-minded people around them don’t agree.

Her twisty Texas-set thrillers, including My Summer Darlings (bad boy wreaks havoc on a trio of lifelong friends) and The Hunting Wives (wine-soaked girls’ nights in the woods go awry), lasso you with an invitingly readable premise. But Cobb is interested in more than just spinning a good beach read. Her books dig into the social mores that underpin women’s lives, and how we either feed or reject them.

A Likeable Woman, which collected “most anticipated” honors like Cobb’s characters toss back refreshing adult beverages, is no exception. Equal parts murder mystery, dysfunctional family saga and commentary on female relationships, it reminds us that everybody’s got an opinion on how “likeable” women should behave.

A Likeable Woman

A vow-renewal ceremony for a high-school friend is a chance for Kira to visit her childhood hometown in East Texas, which she’s mostly avoided since decamping for California. While the grandmother who was a big part of her life still lives there, so do the high school girls who have grown into mostly appearance-obsessed wives and mothers. Her sister Katie, who’s kept her distance since Kira’s move, is there too.

More troubling in Longview are the unavoidable memories of her mother, who died tragically when Kira was a teenager. The official story: Unpredictable artist Sadie intentionally overdosed. But that explanation never convinced Kira.

But when her ailing grandmother reveals she has something for Kira that will prove someone did murder Sadie, Kira decides it’s worth going back home.

Also returning that same weekend is childhood crush Jack, now married and a father but still fueling lots of slow-burn smolder. Cobb’s insightful depiction of Jack’s son, who has autism, is an important bit of representation, as is her thought-provoking Washington Post essay about her own experiences as the parent of an autistic child.

May Cobb (photo: Jeska Forsyth photography).

Cobb amps up the thrill factor in A Likeable Woman with anonymous texts warning Kira to stop investigating her mother’s death. And she invites us into Sadie’s mind through the unpublished memoir Kira’s grandmother shares. It highlights Sadie’s increasing suffocation as a housewife and her joy at discovering her artistic prowess, reminding Kira of her own abandoned love of art. There’s a whole sub-theme of this novel about the value of nurturing your own creativity.

She also shows us the cage of expectations.

Sadie’s controlling husband is one obvious source. He greets her attempts at a Julia Child-style dinner party with vitriol: “You’re just looking for attention. You think you’re so interesting, but you’re an embarrassment.” Cobb also captures the sometimes-hilarious frenemy dynamic of Kira’s former classmates throughout the weekend’s Insta-worthy events, and maps the bonds between Kira and her often-imperious grandmother.

This energetic read works on multiple levels. Come for the whodunnit, stay for the lyrical odes to art and the inspiration for believing in yourself – whether it makes you likeable or not.

 (Berkley, July 11, 2023)

 

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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