Monday, September 15, 2014

All We Had: A Novel by Annie Weatherwax

Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Scribner

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rita and Ruthie Carmichael have always known hunger and homelessness, but they've always kept their dreams of a big house with a pool and a full scholarship to Harvard alive. After breaking off a disaster of a relationship, the two set off on a cross-country drive with their eyes set on the East coast. Best laid plans often went wrong and for Rita and Ruthie, their plans go haywire before they could get close to their destination.

Stranded in a small town called Fat River, Ruthie and Rita find a sense of stability that they'd been missing for as long as they could remember. Their life took them on a new path, leaving them both scared and excited all at once. But a series of events test their long-held beliefs and the very relationship between mother and daughter. Will they be able to get through the tough times together? Will they find their paths going separate directions after all?

I found this book on NetGalley while I was browsing for something out of my comfort zone to read. The description provided by the publisher intrigued me. The book sounded like a mix of a down-on-your-luck type of story and a coming-of-age novel. Much of the book surrounded a portion of Rita and Ruthie's life that brought profound change and put them each on a path that they least expected.

Though the story is told through Ruthie's point-of-view, both Ruthie and Rita are the main characters in this memoir-like retelling of their lives. For as long as Ruthie can remember, life with her mother was always a series of jobs with low pay, men with hidden secrets or horrible qualities, and the ever-present dream for Ruthie to attend Harvard. The author set the story in recent times but with the struggle the gals are going through, it almost seemed as though they were living in an earlier decade. A small group of characters, which included a married diner/gas station owner, a transgender waitress, and a head waitress with powerful hot flashes, played crucial parts within the story. I think they had more of an affect on Ruthie than Rita, but there were plenty of moments where the secondary characters had their time in the spotlight as well. These added more depth to the story and the small town of Fat River itself.

One of the things I liked about this story was the pacing. Not only did the story start out with a decent pace and a bit of truth and action, but the pace of the story stayed steady until the end. The author didn't allow the story to become stagnate by recounting each and every detail of the hard life that the characters were living. Time did pass while Ruthie and Rita lived in Fat River, but the routines of their lives were acknowledged without overwhelming the main incidents. I can't say that I could relate to everything that the characters went through, but the feelings of worthlessness and dreams of becoming something more are something I believe most people can understand.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book and the way it looked at the American dream. It's not hard to look around and see people in our neighborhoods that resemble Rita and Ruthie (or any of the other characters, for that matter). The hard part would be in doing something to ease the burden for those whose weights are too much. Though it's not a book I would read over and over, I'm very glad to have gotten a chance to see life through Ruthie's eyes. The relationship between mother and daughter provided both comfort and conflict, which truly made for really good reading. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary in a small town with a flavor all its own or a story about overcoming the odds, this is the one you should be reading.

All We Had: A Novel by Annie Weatherwax is currently available at many online retailers as well as local bookstores in your choice of Kindle or hardcover format. The link below will take you to the book's Amazon page.
All We Had: A Novel by Annie Weatherwax

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