Saturday, September 13, 2014

All We Had

In All We Had artist and sculptor Annie Weatherwax has delivered a stunning debut novel in which she’s beautifully demonstrated her incredible talent and gifts by painting with words a portrait on the page of a simple life filled with love and struggle that was poignant, funny and equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking. Weatherwax delivered each stroke using the original, brutally honest and memorable voice of our 13-year old narrator, Ruthie Carmichael. Ruthie has at times been both parent and child in her relationship with mom Rita, who gave birth to Ruthie at 16 and was now only 29. Ruthie and Rita have always known struggles, frequently sitting on the precipice of homelessness, yet thankfully “with her movie star looks and Oscar-worthy acting, voila!” out of nowhere Rita would miraculously produce an instant boyfriend and a new place for them to live.

It was June 2005 and Rita had just lost her Walgreens job when she produced Phil, a 1-800 wall-to-wall carpet installer whose apartment smelled like carpet glue. Ruthie adored her mom regardless of her track record with men (most of who were jerks; Phil, quite possibly brain damaged). Rita was fierce and smart and according to Ruthie “she could spot an asshole from a thousand miles away and her favorite word by far was fuck.” Truth was that when life was just Ruthie and Rita, it felt like magic. After getting tired of Phil and his crappy TV with coat hanger antenna, Ruthie and Rita decide to skip town in a beat up 1993 Ford Escort with Phil’s DVD player and old laptop in tow to pawn for some much needed getaway cash.

It takes little thought for Rita to come up with their destination, Boston, since despite having been in and out of shelters, boyfriends houses and places of their own which never lasted, Rita always made sure Ruthie never missed school and as such, she just knew one day Harvard would come knocking with scholarship in hand. Of course, as the saying goes, the best laid plans often go awry, so after sponge baths in gas station bathrooms, sleeping in the car, and spending nearly all their cash, their Escort actually lands them in Fat River instead of Boston at Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go!, where they intended to only fuel up and steal a couple diet cokes and powdered Donettes for the road, but after their Escort craps out and the two are left stranded, a tearful confession to Mel, Tiny’s owner, lands them a gig as waitress and dishwasher and before long maybe enough money to pay the bills.

For Ruthie, Fat River becomes the first place she can truly call home and her co-workers, Peter Pam, the transgender waitress with broad shoulders, blonde wig with perfect flip curl and handlebar mustache; and Arlene, the head waitress with hot flashes so bad she has to run into the walk-in freezer to cool off, her beloved extended family. Soon Ruthie and Rita move out of the back room of the gas station into a place of their own, that soon enough sweet-talking mortgage broker Vick entices Rita to buy and which thanks to our now infamous subprime mortgage crisis places them once again on the brink of disaster and fighting for survival, though this time the price of survival might change their lives forever.

I loved All We Had! I know, I know, it seems like I love everything I read, but what can I say, I’m just darn good with my reading choices. Anyway, this novel was infused with so much honesty, warmth and love, that you truly can’t help but fall in love with it and all of the characters that comprise this small perfect world of Fat River and Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go which Weatherwax has created. It truly is a story of love, if not a love story; depicting the kind of deep, abiding, palpable love that can exist not only between two lovers, but also between a mother and child.

Ruthie was so beautifully written and as our narrator so powerful in the depths of her honesty. In its every line, the reader can feel the depths of Ruthie’s love for Rita; the kind of love that sees you through your darkest hours, because while love might not always conquer all (despite popular belief), it makes the “all” that much more bearable because you’re sharing it with that one person that truly matters. As for Rita…poor, poor Rita, my heart broke for her heartbreak, and I felt the weariness she carried at just 29 from a lifetime of disappointments and tribulations (from foster care to pregnant at 16, to being a single parent fighting the good fight with everything at her disposal, even if it was just her beauty and sexuality). Say what you will about Rita’s morals or decisions, she was a good mother, who tried her very best.

Do yourself a huge favor and read this wonderful novel from this amazing new author. All We Had is a gritty, witty, and haunting story that will touch your heart (and stay there) as you read every line and every page long into the night in this unforgettable page-turner.