Billie Letts’s ” Where the Heart Is” if full of undigested pockets of grief that left me steaming. Grumpy, stomping down the streets after I had finished it.
Like I was taken for a ride on the promise of candy(heart) but got a quick succession of grisly hunks of meat instead.
Grisly hunks like(SPOILERS)- Teen pregnancy, Kidnapping, Jail rape, Deadbeat moms, Deadbeat Dads, The Tornado and death, the forced sodomy of a chlld, the brutal disfiguring assault on that child’s mother, the library burning down, and of course trope of all tropes the female protagonists sacrifice for love(No no I had to give him up so he wouldn’t be stuck with a nobobdy like me, so he would go places).
I am throwing up because that is too much to swallow. Add the forgiveness and reunion at the end and I am flabbergasted she could fit all that in 376 pages. It’s a book that reels you in with the promise of tabloid worthy disaster, starting of with teenage Novalee Nation being left in a Walmart parking lot by her token asshole boyfriend when she is 7 months pregnant with only a few bucks to her name. She sneakily lives in the Walmart and then gives birth to her daughter Americus Nation and has her 15 minutes of fame.
This story had a lot of potential. But Billie Letts didn’t give the characters any breathing room. Things are just skimmed over. Oh Americus’s father gets raped in jail, no big deal, he’s an asshole, just needed some stitches. Oh Novalee’s mom reappears to just to steal the money she was given for her 15 minutes of fame, that’s fine, it’s too be expected.
But where my dear readers is the grief? The human suffering that these characters were feeling? Why does Novalee not cry when her mother returns and then leaves so abruptly. She flatly accepts that is was to be expected even though she so gullibly bought her mother’s story. Billie Letts minimizes the impact of such events. They are glossy like snapshots and just as two dimensional. There was little connection in this characters to the past events. Novalee seems very unaffected by her foster care upbringing other than the fact she wants a home that isn’t on wheels. Humans are resilient yes, but pain ungrieved stays locked in the body. So maybe all these characters are on lock down.
One particular part of this novel that I found aggravating was when Novalee’s best friend Lexie comes home to find her current boyfriend, raping her son Brumett after a failed attempt to get her daughter Pauline to suck him off(she threw up). Lexie is assualted, the kids are traumatized. And really that’s it.
Lexie asks ” ‘But Novalee what I am going to say to Brummett and Pauline when they ask me why this happened to them? What will I say?”
And you know what? Novalee doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t realize the immensity of the advice being asked for just launches into a little speech that is completely out of character(that is if she really had one) ” Tell them that our lives change with every breath we take. Lord, we both know that.Tell them to let go of what’s gone because men like Roger Briscoe never win. And tell them to hold on like hell to what they’ve got-each other and a mother who would die for them, and almost did.”
You know what NO! No I feel angry at Billie Letts for her very casual treatment of rape. Yes rape happens, yes it happens probably ever day(though I would hope not). But we don’t just whip out speeches as human beings when it comes to rape. We are shocked, we feel fear, feel anger and you know what those kids need to be told? Nothing. There is nothing to say. They need to come to healing on their own. They need to express their grief and rebuild their trust in humanity. All their mother can do is love them and give them room to feel. There is nothing to say that will fix it. And to say the rapist, the “bad guy” wont ever win, what consolation is that? To someone who doesn’t feel safe in their body anymore? Life isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about doing our best to love and accept ourselves and live life.
It’s about being a human being and giving space to the emotions that make us human. That come from the heart. And to me that is where the heart is.
And yes Billie Lett’s recognizes we come together in a tragedy, but you know what is even more amazing coming together when there is no disaster. And she can continually parrot: Home is Where the Heart is.” ” Home is Where the Heart is.” Until the cows come home, but I disagree our heart is our home. Out heart is the centre of our being.
So general consensus- Easy to read, full of some beautiful visuals but overstuffed with plot points to shock and move the action along, lacking self-aware characters and room to grieve.
Phew. Gotta shake that one off.
PS I am not surprised they made this into a movie, it felt more like a movie than a book.