Tucker (The Song Reader, 2003) delivers another brisk hard-luck saga for undemanding readers.
Narrator Patty Taylor, single mother of a two-year-old, has a good gig as the lead singer for a talented band traveling the Midwest trying to make a name for itself, even though she’s mostly viewed as a meal ticket while band leader Jonathan aims for the higher world of Art. When Rick, the father of Patty’s baby, gets paroled after three years in jail on drug charges, he comes looking to resume their intense first-love romance. Patty has moved on, or so she says, but she can’t make Rick believe it. Backstory: with little education (though she mentions she got her GED before son Willie was born, “so he’d never have to feel like his mother wasn't good enough”), Patty is plagued by a self-defeating lack of confidence, fed by an alcoholic mother who routinely threw the teenager out of the house, blaming her marital unhappiness on her daughter. Rick filled the emotional vacuum in Patty’s life, and he did take care of her, until his arrogant dalliance in drugs revealed an ugly side to his controlling nature. Second-novelist Tucker earnestly tries to allow Patty to grow as a responsible mother and a person with a mind of her own, but the the story is crippled by its caricatures of meanness in Rick, Mama, and even the band’s oily agent, who threatens to fire Patty one minute and sends her flowers the next. The lightweight, fast-moving prose, describing superficial actions with little introspection, makes this feel like a YA. Even Jonathan, perhaps the only character who regards Patty as more than a “dumb chick,” never grows beyond the stereotypes of a stock character. It’s too bad, because readers will like Patty and wish her author had given her more to think about.
Predictable tale of a working-class homegirl making good on her mistakes.