I enjoyed Billie Letts' Oprah-fueled bestseller Where the Heart Is. Since I describe Where the Heart Is as "the book where the girl gives birth at Wal-Mart," I groaned when this book's opening scene was set in, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. It wasn't my last groan.
Made in the U.S.A. is the story of fifteen-year-old Lutie and her brother Fate, who is 11. When their guardian (their no-goodnik father's former girlfriend) Floy dies in the checkout line at Wal-Mart, they hit the road to Vegas. The road trip is told in a somewhat comical style, although there are also hints that bad things are going to befall the pair (e.g., they pick up a crazy hitchhiker who threatens them with strangulation and stabbing). When they get to Vegas, they learn their father died in jail--on the same day that Floy died, no less. The two are forced to live in their car. While Fate spends his days at the library or picking up golf balls for resale, Lutie shoplifts, gets a tattoo, works two jobs, is raped at one of them, learns to use cocaine at the other, decides to make some quick cash in the porn industry, and finally is beaten to within an inch of her life. Although the two have a "guardian angel" who leaves them food and poorly spelled notes with tips for the homeless, this angel (AKA Juan Vargas, a disabled former Cirque du Soleil aerialist) doesn't actively intervene until Lutie's attackers have nearly killed her. He then swoops in, gets Lutie sewed up, and takes the kids to his grandmother's house in Oklahoma, where the story becomes one of the value of having a tribe. This tribe just happens to be a multi-generational circus family and, oh, did I mention that Lutie was a top gymnast before she was kicked off the team back in Spearfish, South Dakota? You can see the ending coming, I'm sure.
This book is a quick read, which is a good thing, because you wouldn't want to spend much time on it.
Favorite passage: None.
Letts' son Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer and a Tony for his play, August: Osage County. A touring company featuring Estelle Parsons recently staged the play at the DCPA; Parsons, who is over 80, was wonderful as the wacky addicted matriarch of a totally dysfunctional family.