Monday, February 1, 2010

Made in the U.S.A.

It's funny that I read Made in the U.S.A soon after reading Summer. Summer is a departure for Wharton from her usually setting of NYC, and Made in the U.S.A. is a departure for Billie Letts from her usual setting of Oklahoma (although she makes it there eventually). I guess I should read the covers/flaps before diving in so I'm not so thrown off at first by these things!
Letts wrote Where the Heart Is, and several other books that take place in Oklahoma. As this is where I'm from, this is exciting for me because we don't get many books set here, so I think it's nice that Letts writes about her home state. What's funny though is that they're always about rural areas and I've always lived in the city and am not actually that familiar with a lot of the rural areas. They do make me think of the stories my grandparents told me about growing up in rural Oklahoma, and help that come alive for me, since they've lived in the city the entire time I've been alive.
Anyway, this Letts novel was quite different, and not just in the setting. If you've never read Letts before, I would start with Where the Heart Is (don't let the movie steer you away if you haven't read it, although I actually enjoyed the movie). What made this book so different for me is that I didn't like the main character. I know she's 15 and has had a rough life, but I would think that would make you closer to your sibling, not cause you to be mean to them. And she's horribly selfish at first. It's oddly not until she starts a downward spiral during their life in Las Vegas that I feel like she's trying to be selfless and do something for her brother. The things that happen in Vegas are dark, especially since they're happening to a 15-year-old girl. I was surprised at where Letts went, but I think it made sense in the story. I think it speaks of Letts' skill that she was able to make you understand Lutie, and grow to like her more after her reprehensible choices.
If you've read Letts before, I think you need to let go of what you expect from her novels before reading this. I think that's part of the reason why reviews of it were pretty negative. But, even though I wasn't sure about it at first, I ended up liking it and read it pretty much in one sitting, so it held my interest.

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