ALL THINGS BILLIE LETTS


Where_the_Heart_Is_Billie_LettsWHERE THE HEART IS; Billie Letts, 1995

I’’m a huge fan of the movie ‘Where The Heart Is‘ (starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and James Frain) but had never read the book. About six months ago I picked up a copy in a second-hand story, but like all my book binge buying, it got shoved up on the shelf of the UNREAD.
Recently I made a commitment not to buy one more books until I’d read all those gathering dust on the above named shelf, and at the recommendation of a friend I began with ‘Where The Heart Is
At first I struggled over the difference between the authors voice and that of Natalie Portman (from the movie) and the result was several false starts. But with a Type A determination and a cup of joe, I forced myself to read beyond my pre-fabbed mental blocks, so that by the time I finished the last page, I’d not only fallen in love with Billie Letts, but was able to shut the cover with a deeper sense of her characters and the power that friendship has on those whom society has marginalized.
Letts” weaves together the simplicity of the mid-west with that of community in order to help the reader step out of their sociological mind-maps and enjoy the little things that truly make us who we are. Starting with Novalee Nation, a teenage girl in her seventh month of pregnancy, the author leads us down the road of ‘Sister Husband’ who teaches her about acceptance, a nurse named ‘Lexi’ whose eternal optimism to find a husband for her every growing band of children helps Novalee deal with abandonment, childbirth and friendship. Mixed into that is the promise of love with a introverted Librarian and the need to forgive the man who left her alone, pregnant and without any money in a Walmart parking lot.
On a scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Where the Heart Is’, a 4. Not because its the best written book I’ve read, but because the story itself demonstrates the power of love and friendship that is as unique as it is heartwarming.

 

 

 


made in the usaMADE IN THE USA; Billie Letts, 2008

As with the first book, it took me a page or two to before I was able to identify with the characters, but unlike my first forray into the land of Letts, I hadn’t formed any preconceived ideas of what they looked like or how they should sound. So once I had fifteen year old Lutie McFee and her eleven year old brother Fate in my sites it was smooth sailing for the rest of the afternoon. Or at least until page 199.

Unlike Where The Heart Is, Made in the USA didn’t end as well as it began. Letts starts off by jerking your heart-strings and  drawing out all the maternal instincts you might possess. But instead of drawing us along and dishing out the drama a little bit at a time, she dumps it all on you in the first half of the book and falls short in the second half. When I finished the book it felt like I’d been given feed a meal backwards. Desert, then entrée and after that,  a plain salad-without dressing. Really rich up front, a little overdone in the middle and flat at the end.

But even though the ending was a personal disappointment, that won’t keep me from reading.

Honk and HollerTHE HONK AND HOLLER OPENING SOON; 1998, Warner Books, Inc. New York, NY

From the moment I read the opening paragraph, until the rigid edge of the back cover closed, Letts did a wonderful job of weaving the characters of Sequoyah,  Oklahoma into this readers heart. Unlike “Made In the USA”, the author took care to keep the rhythm and cadence  of the story strong, its characters vibrant and ended by bringing resolution where resolution was needed,  leaving those that needed more time,  dangling appropriately.

Like the outer reaches of Alaska or northern Canada, places like Sequoyah are where the broken and wounded migrate, find their broken niche, and over time,  bring healing and restoration to each other.

Drawing from a variety of racial textures, Letts introduces us to wheelchair bound Vietnam vet Caney Paxton; shame bound, soft-hearted man whose world has been reduced to the roadside cafe he owns, and the lives of those he serves up his unchanging fried special to.  Within hollering distance is Molly O’Keefe; supporting cast member of the Honk and Holler, displaced rescuing ranger mom, and unsuspecting target for “it’s never too late to fall in love”.  Now throw in a generous portion of Vena Takes Horse; caught in the drifters pull of a heart without a home, the redeemer of wounded animals, and the secret longing of a broken mans dreams. Round out the edges of the story with Bui Khanh; immigrate Vietnamese “gook” (as the racial insane Same Kellam calls him), eternal idealist, friend and a bridge of restoration for any and all who get in his way.

Spice the rest of the story with a blended mix of farmers, dreamers, schemers and hidden secrets, and you have a wonderful story of hope and optimistic futures. Keep in line with “Where the Heart Is”, Billie Letts supplies her readers with hope in the midst of despair, joy in the flood waters  of sorrow,  and faith in an unseen tomorrow. So, if you’re looking for a feel good read on a crisp fall day, or a smile during a difficult time, “The Honk and Holler Opening Soon” just might do the trick. As an all around great read, with heart-felt characters and satisfying plots, I’m giving this four and a half stars.


shoot the moon SHOOT THE MOON; Billie Letts, 2004

I’ll let you know how they go.