July 3, 2008
Made in the U.S.A.
Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts
2008 Grand Central Publishing
Finished on 6/29/08
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)
Fate sometimes thought that God was looking out for him and Lutie. The notes left for them, and the food they found on the hood of the car and in the library. All of that came from someone. And if it didn't come from God, then maybe Fate's mother was watching over them or maybe even Floy. But he felt pretty certain that it wasn't his daddy because he didn't figure Jim McFee had the status of an angel.
The bestselling author of Where the Heart Is returns with a heartrending tale of two children in search of a place to call home.
Lutie McFee's history has taught her to avoid attachments...to people, to places, and to almost everything. With her mother long dead and her father long gone to find his fortune in Las Vegas, 15-year-old Lutie lives in the god-forsaken town of Spearfish, South Dakota with her twelve-year-old brother, Fate, and Floy Satterfield, the 300-pound ex-girlfriend of her father. While Lutie shoplifts for kicks, Fate spends most of his time reading, watching weird TV shows and worrying about global warming and the endangerment of pandas. As if their life is not dismal enough, one day, while shopping in their local Wal-Mart, Floy keels over and the two motherless kids are suddenly faced with the choice of becoming wards of the state or hightailing it out of town in Floy's old Pontiac. Choosing the latter, they head off to Las Vegas in search of a father who has no known address, no phone number and, clearly, no interest in the kids he left behind.
Made in the U.S.A. is the alternately heartbreaking and life-affirming story of two gutsy children who must discover how cruel, unfair and frightening the world is before they come to a place they can finally call home.
I had such high hopes for this new release by Billie Letts. I loved all three of her previous books (The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Where the Heart Is and Shoot the Moon), each peopled with quirky memorable characters and situations. Unfortunately, Letts fails to deliver with Made in the U.S.A., which was nothing but a lot of simplistic plotting and one-dimensional characters. And, if the thin (and ultimately sappy) storyline wasn't bad enough, the depressing situations Lutie brought upon herself (shoplifting, fake ids, drugs, prostitution and pornography) were almost enough to make me give up on the book before I'd reached the halfway mark. I desperately wanted to root for these pathetic, homeless runaways, but found it more and more difficult to work up any sympathy. The only reason I finished was to see how it all turned out. I needn't have bothered, as it was pretty much how I guessed.
Early reviews have claimed Made In the U.S.A. is a heartbreaking, yet uplifting story. Maybe I have a cold heart, but I didn't feel anything other than annoyance and a sense of deep disappointment in this mediocre effort by Letts, especially in view of her previous literary accomplishments.