by Robert Olen Butler
A review by Ann Ellenbecker
Fair Warning begins with Amy Dickerson describing one of her first experiences with auctioneering. She'd just turned seven and gathered together a group of kids from the neighborhood in the hopes that one of them would buy her three-year-old sister, Missy. To Amy's surprise, it worked she sold her sister for six dollars and twenty-five cents to a girl up the street. "[The girl] was an only child, a thing I made her feel sorry about when the bidding slowed down at five bucks." But the gig was up when Missy insisted on retrieving her dollies from home, and their mother found out. Nonetheless, in the first two pages, Amy's cunning skills as an auctioneer are made plain. She knows how to read people, and to manipulate their vulnerabilities to her advantage. It's no wonder that as a forty-year-old woman she is working for a highly reputable New York auction house, her intuition still honed and keeping her professionally successful.
Unfortunately, her intuition is not as sharp when it comes to personal relationships. Despite frequent visits, Amy struggles to maintain civility and support toward her sister. Her interactions with their widowed mother are obligatory and strained. Amy has everything going for her she's intelligent, attractive, financially independent, witty and cultured yet her luck with men is minimal. A childhood fraught with feelings of being second-best has left her with a shield against commitment. She wants to be loved, but at what price?
Amy Dickerson is an ironic herione. She is an auctioneer of antiquated goods and an aging bachelorette. She is accustomed to being able to interpret her buyers. She can wile them into acting on their cravings, and convince anyone that a piece at auction is more than a desire, but a necessity. However, her approach must change when the commodity on the block is herself.
Butler has penned one of the most erudite, sympathetic, and believable female protagonists by a male author that I have read in years. You'll find no sugary sweet, love-will-save-me wimpers from this woman. Amy has substance and intelligence, and she's stable enough to say no when the wrong kind of love comes knocking at her door. Step aside, Ally McBeal, here's something meatier.