The third book in my Books of a Lifetime series is The Cracker Factory, by Joyce Rebeta-Burditt, one of my top three favorite books ever. Written in 1977, I probably picked it up in the early 80’s. It tells the story of Cassie Barrett, an alcoholic wife and mother. Her life is the definition of chaos as she tries to get her problems under control; dealing with her husband and mother, who she thinks are conniving against her (they are!), her three children, her lover and her shrink. Plus all the patients and medical folks she meets in her stays at a psychiatric hospital.
Cassie, based on Rebeta-Burditt’s own experiences as a young wife and mother, manages to make her predicament both serious and wildly funny. Her attitude and sarcasm made me laugh again, just thumbing through the book this morning. In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been just another alcoholic-mom-goes-through-hell piece, easily dismissed. But Cassie jumps off the page, right into your face, and makes you want to shake some sense into her then gab with her over Chinese food. If ever there was a character you wanted to root for, it’s her!
Clearly, Cassie is the heroine of the book but one of the nurses on her ward, a delicate looking woman they’ve nicknamed Tinkerbell, is indelibly etched in my mind. She is the calm center of the stormy ward, treating every patient with respect and intelligence. Ultimately, Tink becomes the purveyor of painful honesty that Cassie has needed, helping her to face a truth that will get her out of her own head and heal her family. After all these years, it’s Tink’s name I remembered, not Cassie’s.
As I’ve done in past Book of a Lifetime’s research, I’ve found a few things I hadn’t known. I did know that Joyce Rebeta-Burditt was a Hollywood writer. I knew that she’d written another book, Triplets, which I read way back when. But I didn’t know she wrote for shows like Matlock, The Father Dowling Mysteries, some of the Perry Mason movies of the 90’s and then went on to create Diagnosis Murder. And I didn’t know that The Cracker Factory had been made into a tv movie with Natalie Wood and that she wrote The Cracker Factory 2-Welcome to Women’s Group in 2010. Not too sure about seeing the movie (they’re rarely as good as the source material) but I may get a copy of the second book.
I also found that she passed away in June of this year at the age of 83. At the end of the article I read in Deadline, several of her past coworkers wrote glowing comments, citing her generosity and belief in and empowerment of other women. She and her writer husband, George, passed their love for writing and producing in Hollywood to their three children. Oh, and she was also a big tipper 😊
So, sometime when you feel like reading about a strong female protagonist working through complicated issues in a hilarious way, give The Cracker Factory a try. I think you’ll like it!