Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'The Honk and Holler Opening Soon' by Billie Letts

I am a big fan of the book Where the Heart Is because it is so deliciously moving and sad and wonderful and romantic. More still, it is a snapshot, like Novalee’s or Moses Whitecotton’s in the dark room, of a life in Oklahoma so foreign to me: the landscape, the mobile homes, the southern vernacular. Most of all, because it is so gloriously heart-warming and poignant.

I think Letts has a way of ushering you into her world and sitting you down with a cup of sweet tea ( I learned the difference between it and iced tea recently ) and telling you about wonderful people’s wonderful lives. Now, these wonderful people are stricken with tragic circumstance, but they overcome to find community and home.

Home. Home is a major motif in Letts’ work. Indeed, reading The Honk and Holler Opening Soon on the weekend reminded me a lot of LM Montgomery. Not for similarities in cadence, tone or plot; but in the assimilation of home as a major ongoing theme. The Honk and Holler, a diner and greasy spoon in Seqoyah Oklahoma, becomes home for its wheel-chair bound owner, Caney, his adoptive mom MollyO, Bui, a young man late of Vietnam who is waiting for his wife to join him for a new life in the States and Vena Takes Horse, a beautiful Native American woman who is roaming, an injured dog in her care, trying to find a place to make ties. Nomads, wanderers, broken souls. In this sense, The Honk and Holler is very much like WTHI: in that it advocates community in the most unlikely places.

I really enjoyed the sparkly notion of home, the diner, of course being one conceptualization of it, and Vena’s ramshackle residence in an old school bus being another; but beautifully woven into Bui’s residence in a local church basement. A Buddhist, Bui sleeps in the church basement but not before appropriating the altar to practice his home religion. In return, he acts as altogether guardian angel for those who worship there: fixing lightbulbs, taking custodial duties with a resident joy, painting and helping out. When Bui suffers a tragic accident, his new family---of such different faith; but similar spirit--- takes care of him.

I love when Letts speaks to the best kind of religion: all full of action and love; blind to differences and inspired by the greater good of the community.

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is a tale of heartache, the remnants of the Vietnam war ripple through the 1980s setting and haunt several of the main characters. The pages are awash with prejudice and betrayal; but in the end love is found. It takes a bit, it takes some soul-crushing moments; but Letts’ pen is swift and fast and I can sense her smiling, winking at us, ushering us in.

What a strong voice she has. Remind me not to wait 15 years to read another of her books.

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