For thirteen-year-old Ruthie Carmichael and her mother, Rita, life has never been stable. Read more...
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For thirteen-year-old Ruthie Carmichael and her mother, Rita, life has never been stable. The only sure thing is their love for each other. Though Rita works more than one job, the pair teeters on the edge of poverty. When their landlord kicks them out, Rita resorts to her movie-star looks and produces carpet-installer Phil, "an instant boyfriend," who takes them in.
Before long, Ruthie convinces her mother to leave and in their battered Ford Escort, they head East in search of a better life. When money runs out and their car breaks down, they find themselves stranded in a small town called Fat River where their luck finally takes a turn. Rita lands a steady job waitressing at Tiny's, the local diner. With enough money to pay their bills, they rent a house and Fat River becomes the first place they call home.
Peter Pam, Tiny's transgender waitress and the novel's voice of warmth and reason, becomes Ruthie's closest friend. Arlene, the no-nonsense head waitress, takes Rita under her wing. The townspeople--Hank and Dotty Hanson, the elderly owners of the embattled local hardware store, and even their chatter-mouth neighbor Patti--become Ruthie and Rita's family.
Into this quirky utopia comes smooth-talking mortgage broker Vick Ward, who entices Rita with a subprime loan. Why rent when you can own? Almost as soon as Rita buys a house their fortunes change. Faced once again with the prospect of homelessness, Rita reverts to survival mode, and the price she pays to keep them out of poverty changes their lives forever.
Accomplished visual artist Annie Weatherwax has written a stunning, heartrending first novel. Ruthie's wry voice and razor sharp observations about American life in the twenty-first century infuse the prose with disarming honesty and humor. "All We Had" heralds the arrival of a powerful new voice in contemporary fiction.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Left hardened and cynical by a life lived on the edge of poverty and homelessness, Rita and Ruthie Carmichael are mother-and-daughter misfits who use their wits and larceny to survive in Weatherwax’s gritty and convincing debut novel of hard times in smalltown America. It’s 2005 and Rita has tired of her current boyfriend, hygiene-challenged carpet installer Phil, so she and 13-year-old Ruthie steal Phil’s TV and a few of his other possessions and begin a road trip from California to Boston. Their car breaks down, stranding them in Fat River, Pa., where Rita lands a waitress job at Tiny’s Grub ’n’ Go! diner/gas station. For a while, the pair are happy in Fat River, moving into their own house and meeting kindhearted people like Peter Pam, a flamboyant transgender waitress with a waxed-tip handlebar moustache who becomes Ruthie’s best friend. This brief period of stability is shattered, however, when their mortgage payments begin to rise, threatening to permanently derail Rita’s ambitious dream for Ruth: college at Harvard. Although sad and depressing, this is a remarkably authentic story of folks on the skids: “When you live so close to it, the bottom is never far away.” And Weatherwax’s smart style, crisp narrative, sharp dialogue, and vivid descriptions send a powerful message: there is hope hidden in despair. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug.)