An exceptional debut about small-time lives and limited dreams in rural America.
Petie (never to be called Patricia) and Rose have been friends since their childhood in Hubbard, a poor seaside town along the Oregon coast. In their early 30s—having had babies right out of high school—the two women work hard for very little, Rose waitressing and Petie cleaning motel rooms. Then Gordon (dying of AIDS) and Nadine come to town and open Souperior’s, an upscale café that makes about as much sense in Hubbard as a Gucci boutique. Rose and Petie become the cooks, which makes life easier, but not by much; Rose is raising a teenaged daughter alone, and Petie has two boys to support, plus her husband Eddie, once again out of a job. Life improves for Rose when Jim Christie comes back to town, a fisherman who stays with her when the season is over. And when Eddie finally gets a job from Ron Schiffen, the Pepsi distributor, Petie can concentrate on her other problems: older son Ryan, a genius scared of everything, and young Loose, a first-grade bully. Hammond’s depiction of the town and its people is refreshingly unsentimental: poverty and bad luck have not created endearing rascals and wise earth mothers. Instead, deprivation makes Rose and Petie tired, a bit narrow-minded, resigned to a life with limits. That may change, though, with Nadine and Gordon’s scheme: a self-published Souperior’s cookbook to help bring in new customers. Rose begins writing down the recipes, and, to Gordon’s delight she’s a natural. Before you know it, they have a real publishing deal with a Los Angeles firm. The story’s real center, though, belongs to Petie, a tough, birdlike woman beaten and abused by her widowed father, raised in abject poverty, saved as a teenager by Eddie’s mother, and now, against all odds, finding love for the first time.
A portrait of the hard-scrabble life: moving and deftly told.