WHERE THE HEART IS; Billie Letts, 1995
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.
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.
I’ll let you know how they go.