Shoulder Season
By Christina Clancy. (St. Martin's Press, 324 pages, $27.99.)

Grieving her dead parents, needing money and yearning for fun and adventure, young Sherri Taylor accompanies her best friend, Roberta, to a job interview to be a Bunny at the Playboy resort in nearby Lake Geneva, Wis., in 1981. Sherri, with her loud laugh and curls like "Slinkies," thinks of herself as awkward, but her Bernadette Peters look gets her the job, while "gorgeous" but edgy Roberta doesn't make the Bunny Mother's cut.

Caught up in an intoxicating swirl of immaturity, masculine attention, hard work, alcohol and drugs, small-town girl Sherri rapidly manages to make a big mess of her life.

"Shoulder Season," the second novel by Wisconsin writer Christina Clancy, is told in flashback from 2019 as Sherri, now a special events manager for a Palm Springs museum, revisits the haunting "foolishness" of her past. An old benefactor is dying of cancer, so she ponders a return to East Troy, Wis., with its centering town square.

Clancy strongly evokes a time and place, with references to Alpine Valley, the A&W, Alice in Dairyland, State Street, the posse comitatus, Schlitz, Sheepshead and Friday night fish fries. A foreshadowed tragedy creates page-turning tension.

Clancy's Wisconsin ties are deep: She lives in Madison, has a doctorate from UW-Milwaukee and taught at Beloit College; her husband's family is from East Troy. Her 2020 debut novel, "The Second Home," has been optioned by TriStar for a limited TV series starring Nicolaj Coster-Waldau from "Game of Thrones."

In "Shoulder Season," she has captivatingly captured the freedom and pain of youth, as well as the wisdom and regret of middle age, and the power of redemption.