Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: "All We Had" by Annie Weatherwax

"When I thought about hell, I thought about life without my mother. She was all I ever really had. I tried to picture who I'd be without her and the only image that came to mind was of a ghost."

Thirteen-year-old Ruthie and her mother, Rita, often lived life on the fringes. Rita isn't above using her body or her sexuality to get what she wants, especially if it means ensuring a better life for the two of them. Rita smokes like crazy and likes to drink, but the one thing she knows for sure is that Ruthie is tremendously intelligent and is destined for great things.

The trouble is, most of the men Rita latches onto look good for a little while, and they save her and Ruthie from certain disaster, but their true selves are ultimately revealed, which leads to the need for a rapid and furtive escape. (Although they're not above taking a few parting gifts from these men on their way out the door.)

"This was how our story always went. With the wind at our backs we soared like bandits narrowly escaping through the night. And no matter where life took us or how hard and fast the ride, we landed and we always stayed together."

When Rita and Ruthie land in the small town of Fat River they don't plan to stay, but their battered vehicle decides otherwise. Through the mercy of Mel, who owns Tiny's, the local diner, Rita is able to get a steady waitressing job, and Ruthie is also able to make some money as a dishwasher. The two are able to let their guards down enough to make friends with Arlene, the tough-but-compassionate head waitress, and Peter Pam, Mel's nephew and the diner's transgender waitress. Rita and Ruthie are able to save enough money to rent a small, dilapidated house, which is actually the first place they can call their own, and their coworkers and neighbors become their extended family.

While Ruthie is content to live her life in Fat River, especially since they were able to buy their house thanks to the help of a crooked mortgage lender, it's not long before Rita starts feeling restless and their security starts rapidly going downhill. With seemingly no other solution, Rita relies once again on her feminine wiles to keep them out of poverty. But the decision that Rita makes has a tremendous impact on her relationship with her daughter.

Many books have been written about the often-tempestuous relationship between mothers and daughters, particularly those struggling to make something of their lives. Annie Weatherwax's All We Had is a sweet, enjoyable addition to this genre. The characters are well-drawn and tremendously engaging, and they seem larger than life without being caricatures of themselves. While you probably can predict how the plot will unfold, you're still captivated enough to want to keep reading.

My only criticism of the book is that at times it seemed like each chapter was an anecdote or interrelated short story rather than a continuous narrative. It almost was as if Weatherwax was trying to say, and here's yet another example of Rita's behavior. It didn't ultimately detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it felt a little less whole, if that makes sense. In the end, however, the vividness of the characters and the heart that Weatherwax imbued her story with really win you over.

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