Book Review: All We Had
Author: Annie Weatherwax Published: 2014 Publisher: Scribner Number of Pages: 272 My Rating: 5 Summary from GoodReads.com:
For Ruthie Carmichael and her mother Rita, life has never been stable. Jobs are hard to find, men come and go. But when a set of unexpected circumstances strands them in Fat River, a small rural town in upstate New York, life takes a turn. Fat River becomes the first place they call home. The modest economic security they gain gives them peace and space for friends. The people of Fat River—Hank and Dotty Hanson, the elderly owners of the local hardware store being driven out of business by the new Walmart; Mel, the flawed, but kindhearted owner of the town diner where Rita finds work; and the cross-dressing Peter Pam, the novel’s voice of warmth and reason—become family. Into this quirky utopia comes Vick Ward, a smooth-talking broker who entices Rita with a subprime mortgage and urges her to buy the ramshackle house she and her daughter have been renting.
Tough and quick-witted, thirteen-year-old Ruthie—whose sardonic voice and plain-spoken observations infuse All We Had with disarming honesty and humor—never minded her hardscrabble existence as long as her mother was by her side. Through it all, the two have always been the center of one another’s lives. But when financial crisis hits, their luck takes a different turn.
Ohhhh the voice in this one. The rich characters. The warm details. Did I mention the voice??
Get ready to read this in one sitting. All We Had is a story about a mother and daughter and their yearning to find some stability in lives in which they only have each other. While this might not sound like the most uplifting of stories, it had so much humor and realness to it that I could feel the characters jumping out of the book at me.
From the very first pages, I was sucked in and I couldn’t put it down. The writing is fresh, vivid, and the voice of Ruthie (did I mention that already?) is so ridiculously amazing that I knew I wanted to re-read the book again before I even finished it. Ruthie is thirteen and should be a young, immature girl but is actually curious, intelligent, strong, and is often the adult of the unique relationship she has with her mother, Rita. Ruthie and Rita are struggling to get by and Rita never finds herself above using her body and sexuality to ensure they have food to eat and a place to live.
“We went from zero to sixty in no time. I was out of school and she was out of work. We had no place to be and not a thing to lose.”
The story begins as the two find themselves trying to figure out an escape route from yet another unstable man and realize they want to get away from their current reality and head across the country to start over. They scramble to get some money and begin their journey, together, as they always are. Rita smokes like a chimney and sometimes drinks more than she should, but she loves Ruthie with all of her heart and does her best to help her daughter be successful no matter what dire circumstances they find themselves in.
“This was how our story always went. With the wind at our backs we soared like bandits narrowly escaping through the night. And no matter where life took us or how hard and fast the ride, we landed and we always stayed together.”
They end up in a small town named Fat River with not a dime to their name and no plan with what they will do next. They don’t plan on staying long in this place, but fate steps in and decides otherwise. The owner of a local diner, Tiny’s, is a kind man who notices their problems and tries to help them in any way he can, namely by giving Rita a waitressing job and Ruthie a job as a dishwasher. There they meet all kinds of raw, real characters and they slowly put their guards down and relax a little, getting comfortable with a routine and a more normal life. The rest of the story is about how their relationship evolves with this newfound stability and how each of them deals with it, no longer forced to sleep in their car or take up house in an abandoned building.
Annie Weatherwax’s descriptions and imagery are incredible. The images she relates through the pages are extremely vivid and give you a haunting feeling that you have been in this place and experience before. She gives each character so much depth and dimension that you often find yourself despising them yet feeling empathy for them at the same time, somehow understanding their decisions and why they had to do what they did. This book is full of so much despair and sadness, yet there is also humor, kindness, and hope. Sigh. I can’t wait to read it all over again and experience the chaotic lives of Rita and Ruthie.
I am going to end this by adding one thing I am absolutely sure of- this is definitely not the last we are hearing from Annie Weatherwax.