Sunday, June 8, 2008

Made in the U.S.A.-Billie Letts

Made in the U.S.A.
Billie Letts
Grand Central, Jun 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780446529013

In Spearfish, South Dakota, with their mother long dead, the McFee siblings teenage Lutie and preadolescent Fate live with three hundred plus pounds Floy Satterfield; their runaway father’s former girlfriend. However, their lives take a spin when their guardian drops dead at the local megastore. Lutie, who enjoys shoplifting for fun ever since she was booted from the high school gymnastics team due to unfair influences, persuades her eleven year old brother to give up the TV shows and global warming because they have two choices: flee in Floy’s ancient car or allow the state to place them. They decide to find their wastrel dad whose last known address is Las Vegas with no further specificity except some dive hotel.

In Las Vegas, they begin to learn nasty truths re their father and prison, and where he might be; which if true will prove he is beyond their reach. Fifteen year old Lutie obtains fake working papers and dead-end jobs so she and her brother have food and shelter of sorts. However, increasingly their choices seem to be foster care or the street sharks including avaricious child molesters, rapists, drug addicts and other abusers. However, former aerialist Juan Vargas “adopts” the pair as his redemption and takes them to his family in Oklahoma where they run the Vargas Brothers Circus. Juan carries guilt, but his grandma has love for all three seemingly losers that might help each find sanctuary if they reach out to her and one another.

Although at times diving too deep into soap opera territory, MADE IN THE U.S.A. is an interesting character driven contemporary tale that argues it takes a village to raise children. Readers will feel for the McFee sibs, who are neglected while their guardian lived and after she dies make questionable decisions more out of fear. What happens to them especially Lutie in Vegas shows the real sinful underbelly of the city. Although Oklahoma turns out to perfect to be realistic, fans will soar with Lutie, play trivia with Fate and hope Juan forgives himself as they with grandma try to become a family.

Harriet Klausner

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