cover image All We Had

All We Had

Annie Weatherwax. Scribner, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-5520-5

Left hardened and cynical by a life lived on the edge of poverty and homelessness, Rita and Ruthie Carmichael are mother-and-daughter misfits who use their wits and larceny to survive in Weatherwax’s gritty and convincing debut novel of hard times in smalltown America. It’s 2005 and Rita has tired of her current boyfriend, hygiene-challenged carpet installer Phil, so she and 13-year-old Ruthie steal Phil’s TV and a few of his other possessions and begin a road trip from California to Boston. Their car breaks down, stranding them in Fat River, Pa., where Rita lands a waitress job at Tiny’s Grub ’n’ Go! diner/gas station. For a while, the pair are happy in Fat River, moving into their own house and meeting kindhearted people like Peter Pam, a flamboyant transgender waitress with a waxed-tip handlebar moustache who becomes Ruthie’s best friend. This brief period of stability is shattered, however, when their mortgage payments begin to rise, threatening to permanently derail Rita’s ambitious dream for Ruth: college at Harvard. Although sad and depressing, this is a remarkably authentic story of folks on the skids: “When you live so close to it, the bottom is never far away.” And Weatherwax’s smart style, crisp narrative, sharp dialogue, and vivid descriptions send a powerful message: there is hope hidden in despair. [em]Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug.) [/em]