A mother and daughter take a coast-to-coast journey and get caught in the economic downturn.
Thirteen-year-old Ruthie’s entire life has been a parade of shoddy homes and questionable men as her mother moves from relationship to relationship. The pattern’s pretty much the same: When Rita tires of one man, she and Ruthie clear the house of any items they can sell and move on to the next. Rita is unapologetic about her lifestyle, but she’s protective of 13-year-old Ruthie, a remarkably bright and precocious girl who rarely misses a day of school despite their vagabond existence. When Ruthie suggests it’s once again time to move on, they pile their belongings into their usual luggage—plastic garbage bags—and climb into Rita’s dilapidated Ford Escort for a cross-country trip from California to Boston. But their car breaks down short of their destination, and with only a few dollars remaining, Rita finds work at a diner in Fat River, New York, a one-horse town with a stagnant economy. The longer they stay, the more Ruthie and Rita feel part of the community. Mel, the diner owner, is the first man to look at Rita with respect. Transgender waitress Peter Pam becomes Ruthie’s closest friend and confidante, and the elderly hardware-store owners make sure her recycled bicycle remains in top-notch shape. Then Rita buys a home she can't really afford, and Ruthie’s tenuous hold on normalcy shifts as the economy takes a nose dive. Weatherwax presents a finely drawn central character whose first-person voice drives an acceptable plot, but her imagination flags in other aspects of this debut novel. Characters in Fat River are superficially drawn, and sometimes even Ruthie seems too detached from the story she tells.
A run-of-the-mill mother-daughter story.