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CBR5 #3: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

I wanted to like this book. I really did. In my attempts to read things that are not all dripping gore and supernatural monsters, I picked out a nice little selection from Oprah's book club. I figured that the story sounded slightly intriguing, and the reviews seemed pretty good.

By the time I got half-way through, I was praying that a zombie horde would crash through town, eating nearly all the characters and laying waste to the country-side.

Novalee Nation is seventeen years old and seven months pregnant when the novel opens, traveling west with her boyfriend Willy-Jack. They stop at a Wal-Mart in a small town in Oklahoma, and while Novalee is in the bathroom, Willy-Jack drives away. So what does Novalee decide to do? The only thing she can do--move into the Wal-Mart! She meets some quirky, lovable small-town residents who eventually become her friends. The book covers several years of her life, and all the wonderful, valuable lessons she learns about friendship and love and strength and independence. A few serious and/or sad things happen, but mostly they flash by quickly and are basically forgotten shortly after they're revealed. Then the book has the audacity not to tie everything together in a neat bow at the end. Really, you're going to lead me prancing through every cliche in the chick-lit genre, and then not bother to at least satisfy me with the traditional happy-ever-after cliche? That just seems mean and unnecessary.

Novalee has a voice very similar to that of Sookie Stackhouse, though Sookie (while not especially bright) seems like a Fulbright scholar compared to Novalee. I get the whole "simple southern girl" thing, but there are several occasions when Novalee is just plain stupid. Poor and southern does not equal stupid, dammit. I did like a few of the supporting characters, though most of them were basically animated caricatures. Friend who is always dieting, and always getting knocked up and then abandoned! Noble elderly black man who points Novalee on the path to her future! Feisty grandma figure! I actually would have liked to a see a lot more of those characters, and find out what made them tick, instead of focusing on how they served Novalee's life. But no! And periodically,without warning, we drop in on Willy-Jack (a character I could happily have left in chapter one, never to be seen again) just to see how life is gut-punching him as a karmic punishment for the way he treated Novalee.

I hope Wal-Mart paid the author a nice chunk of change for all the favorable product placement. The Wal-Mart in my home town would not be nearly as friendly as this fictional one (also, it'd be hard to live in because where I'm from, Wal-Mart doesn't close at night.)

And the damn woman names her daughter Americus. Americus Nation. I almost through the book across the bus at that point, but I didn't because those other bus passengers didn't deserve to be punished for a fictional character's poor decisions.

Once again, I wish I could like this. It's not an offensive book. It's just good-heartedly dumb. I'll probably watch the movie if I see it available on Netflix Streaming or OnDemand because I am a glutton for punishment.

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