A small-town teen hits the road and gets more than she bargained for in this raw debut from online writer Portes.
Thirteen-year-old narrator Luli McMullen lies low whenever her sexy, self-dramatizing mother Tammy and charming but shiftless father Nick hit the bottle. Living in a ramshackle farmhouse outside Palmyra, Neb., Luli subsists on sugar sandwiches and special-occasion hams boosted from a nearby Piggly Wiggly. She even endures tongue-kissing by the bartender of the Alibi, where most of Nick’s and Tammy’s nonstop brawling takes place. Finally tiring of Tammy’s infidelities, Nick abandons his family, and Luli follows suit by striking out for Vegas. En route, she hitches a ride with Eddie Kreezer, “a skinny bug-eyed cowboy” with a swayed spine and a menacing air. Craving his attention anyway, Luli calls him names and gets thrown out of his truck. After spending the night in a ditch, she awakens to the sound of a streetwise beauty named Glenda relieving herself. Bound for Wyoming with a stuffed rabbit in tow, Glenda convinces Luli to help her rob a store—too bad her fake fainting fit induces a real stroke in the elderly owner. Next stop: Lusk, where Glenda visits an old flame and a mute boy molests Luli. In Jackson, Glenda reunites with her husband, and Luli re-encounters the baleful Eddie. Tricking Luli into leaving with him, Eddie pimps her out in a barroom bet and then rapes her himself. When Glenda tracks them down at last, Luli has been tied up and repeatedly abused by Eddie for several days in a Nevada cabin. The inevitable showdown offers gore and revelations aplenty about Eddie and Glenda’s history, but Luli finds salvation through the kindly, libertarian cabin owner.
Luli’s determinedly breezy narrative voice can be grating, but it also generates sympathy.