eBook, 272 pages
...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....
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.
All We Had by Annie Weatherwax is a highly recommended mother/daughter novel that looks at the gritty side of poverty, sometimes with humor, but always with empathy.
Rita and Ruthie Carmichael are a mother and daughter who are used to moving often and scrambling to try and find a way to live. That may mean working several jobs or it may mean Rita will be looking for a new "sugar daddy" for them to live with. Rita has frequently resorted to using her sexuality to help her get what she wants or needs, a fact that 13 year old Ruthie, the narrator of All We Had, is well aware of either because she witnessed the acts or because Rita told her what she did. Ruthie will tell you that her mother's favorite word is the F word.
They are currently living with Phil in CA, but Ruthie easily convinces Rita that it is time to move on. After stealing his things and pawning what they could, the two set off across the country and end up stranded in Fat River, a small town in NY. Rita accepts a waitressing job and Ruthie a job as a dishwasher at Tiny's Grub 'n' Go, a diner. For Ruthie this becomes one of the happiest periods in her life. She adores Peter Pam, a caring, funny transgender waitress. They make friends with Mel, the owner, and Arlene, the head waitress, as well as some neighbors when they rent and later buy a house. For once Ruthie feels some stability in her life.
Ruthie is an intelligent girl who does not mince words when describing what Rita does and where things are headed. When they fall on some hard times, after the long stretch of almost normalcy, Rita resorts to her tricks, what she knows how to do to survive, which puts Ruthie in a bind. She wants to stay in Fat River. When you are used to living so close to the bottom all the time, any sense of community and camaraderie is something to cherish.
I'm going to admit that at the beginning of All We Had I wasn't enjoying the novel. It gets much better once the pair settle down in Fat River. The character of Rita, the mother, is especially had to feel much empathy for because of all her extremely bad, selfish choices. Ruthie, however, will steal your heart. You will be wishing her all the best.
Weatherwax has written an excellent novel in All We Had. The characters were well developed, the descriptions very visual (it's the artist in her), and the plot moved along at a good pace. I'm anticipating she'll come back with another winner soon. (All We Had has been optioned to be made into a movie.)
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner via Netgalley for review purposes.