A debut tale about a 1950s southern airhead. All heart and whimsy, Lila Mae Wooten sets off from Kentucky to drive to California with her four kids in a 1953 Packard (plus a trailer packed with furniture), and on the way gets into all sorts of relatively harmless mischief more typical of a sitcom with tinny laugh track than a well-rounded novel. She’s in no hurry to join her husband Roy, already in California. She wants to see the sights along legendary Route 66 and get there in her own sweet time. Life’s not been easy, Lila Mae suggests: they—ve written some bad checks and now creditors are on their tail; she’s been treated for an unspecified cancer; and a business deal of Roy’s has gone sour. But Lila Mae’s a trooper. Her eldest daughter, teenager Becky Jean, is the family worrier—and realist—who frets as her mother befriends gas attendants and waitresses; detours through Mississippi and Texas; and then, heading west, and running short of money, offers a ride to talented Native American jewelry-maker Juanita Yellowstone. Juanita, with pyromaniac son Benny in tow, wants to visit daughter Rosita, who’s in an iron lung in a Minnesota hospital. The family insists on first seeing the Grand Canyon, but then, taking Benny’s advice to follow a secret route, lands on the edge of a precipice, where they burn Lila Mae’s furniture to keep warm. Abruptly the story cuts from a real cliffhanger to the present, as Lila Mae, now widowed and (inexplicably) well-off in Los Angeles, muses about her now-grown children and Juanita’s success. Supposedly life’s gotten better, but Lila Mae’s current condition seems as arbitrarily determined as all her other previously ill-chosen adventures. Comedy, both light and dark, strained to breaking point in a novel as aimless as poor old Lila Mae’s wanderings. Not funny, not fun—in truth, dreadful.