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Review: Made in the USA

May 14, 2009

I’ve just immersed myself in a novel I can tell I’m going to love: Billie Letts’ Made in the USA. I just began reading mid-morning while teaching (How do you read while teaching? you wonder. It goes a little something like this—I get the homebound student started on an assignment with directions and instruction, read for around ten minutes while he works until a problem arises, help him through it, then read for around ten more until assignment is completed. Repeat process multiple times for period of around four to five hours, depending on day and subject. Some days and some subjects require considerable coaching. But back to the novel.). I began reading mid-morning and within a couple of hours had already breezed through eighty plus pages. With all of the stops and starts for geometry and research papers, that’s pretty good.  


I was intrigued from the start with Letts’ return to Wal-Mart, a scene of salvation and saving grace in Where the Heart Is, and a catalyst for forward motion for Made in the USA. It is here that the grossly overweight girlfriend of Lutie and Fate’s absentee father keels over dead at register three, and Lutie and Fate have moments to decide the course of their future.


I was further hooked when I later learned that Fate’s name “was supposed to be Fale…[their] mother’s maiden name, but they got it wrong on his birth certificate. The crossed the l.” There is a comic, and yes, fateful, irony inherent in the alteration of her brother’s name from FALE to FATE that seems to fly right over the head of Lutie—much as naming her child “Fale” would have flown over the head of his mother.


I was sunk by Lutie’s repeated, pathetic efforts to find beauty and worth in herself in external ways—tattoos, a second earring hole, the attention of “one of the bronze boys” of Vegas. This searching, combined with the situation the kids find themselves in—alone, with no money, shelter, or food in Vegas—leaves me in dread even as Letts manages to make me laugh at their antics.


Letts innate understanding of human nature, willingness to address tough subjects, and eye for quirky details makes this book, right from the start, incredibly easy to fall into.

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