We’re inundated with suggestions about what to read while in quarantine: biographies of presidents, historical accounts of past pandemics, cookbooks with new recipes, and humorous accounts by nighttime comedians. But what we really crave is a well-written gossipy novel set in a luxurious resort populated by rich, shallow people we love to hate. If you were once a fan of Jacqueline Susann, whose Valley of the Dolls remains an all time bestseller, or Jackie Collins, author of Hollywood Wives (“Power! Sex! Money! Fame!”), then Phyllis Melhado’s The Spa at Lavender Lane, is the perfect escape you need now.
Melhado writes about what she knows, having once served as vice president of public relations for Estee Lauder. Located in Palm Springs, Lavender Lane provides A-type personalities a place to relax, exercise, eat healthy food, and, ultimately lose weight. The brainchild of Madame Nadia Demidovo, the spa is a favorite for models, corporate executives, and socialites who enjoy being pampered and have the resources to pay for excellent service.
As she has done so many times, Madame Demidovo prepares to welcome a new group of guests. First up is the former model Mavis Perkins, a spa regular, who begins her visit by complaining that her usual suite, which provides breathtaking views of the mountains, is occupied by someone else. Nadia is reluctant to reveal that Dr. Eleanor Franklin, CEO of Franklin Nutritionals, is still recovering from a botched plastic surgery, and is forced to extend her stay at Lavender Lane. But she shares enough with Mavis to defuse the situation.
Three of the other guests are first timers. Antoinette Etheridge (Toni), a buyer for women’s sportswear, is expecting, planning to co-parent with the father, Kevin, a designer who is gay, married, and shares Toni’s desire for a child. While Toni is excited about becoming a mother, so much else about her future remains up in the air. She’s worn out from her job and worried that she will never find Mr. Right, especially now when she’s pregnant. Texan Charlotte Tanner, has brought her teenage daughter, Lauren, hoping the spa stay will help them heal some of the rifts in their relationship. Lauren who has aspirations to become a model, is anorexic, while Charlotte hopes to lose the pounds she’s put on from her stress eating following her second divorce.
The spa’s assistant director is Phoebe Bancroft, a British woman who believes the time has come for her to share in Lavender Lane’s profits. Before Phoebe can arrange a meeting, Nadia is found in her suite, dead from a possible heart attack. The question of who will inherit Lavender Lane is quickly answered when Nadia’s will reveals she has a son who knows nothing about her existence. Peter Culvane, a successful lawyer in Boston, is stunned to learn, not only that Nadia is his biological mother, but that she has left him Lavender Lane. Eleanor Franklin breaks the news to Peter over the phone and he is soon on a plane for California.
Even the appearance of Peter doesn’t quell Mavis’ desire to take advantage of Nadia’s death. And once the very attractive Peter arrives on the scene, Mavis is even more determined to force some sort of merger. Charlotte and Toni also have ideas for how they might become involved in Lavender lane’s future. And Phoebe, of course, is the one with the most to lose. Having been at the spa for more than 20 years, she not only enjoys the work but considers Lavender Lane her home. What will happen if Peter sells the spa and there’s no room for her?
All works out in the end, although there are many bumps along the way, including a rescue. Melhado’s descriptions of the spa – the treatment rooms, the fragrances, the music, even the food – will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited a spa, whether for a few days or a few hours. Since we can’t visit one now, The Spa at Lavender Lane is the next best thing. You can read about presidents later.
Author photo: Skrebneski
The Spa at Lavender Lane