Honk and Holler returns Billie Letts’ readers to the mythical town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma, where Novalee Nation presumably still lives (or will live) after putting her life together in Where the Heart Is. In this novel, the focus is on different characters whose lives intersect in 1985. The immediate setting is a cafe, The Honk and Holler Opening So9on.” Its name, too, enthusiastically committed to neon twelve years earlier. Caney, the owner, and Molly-O, his waitress, shape their lives around their customers, in part to erase their own painful pasts. Caney, a paraplegic Vietnam vet, has not been outside the cafe since it opened.
Things change, however, when Vena Takes Horse and Bui Khanh arrive in town and manage to talk their way into working for Caney. These refugees from the road inject new energy into the cafe and enlarge the lives of Caney and Molly-O. In a sense, the novel explores the extent to which a small diner can embody the spirit of a town, and the extent to which community can heal the lives of those who live there.
At one point, Vena realizes how much she has grown accustomed to the folks that come into the cafe: “[she]… watched the way Soldier hooked his thumb over the rim of his coffee cup when he raised it to his mouth and how Hooks squinted when he chewed on a toothpick… watch the way Bilbo tilted his head to blow his smoke away from Peg’s bluish face and how Wanda Sue pulled at her ear when she passed her latest gossip… watched the way Bui bowed shyly to compliments and how Life looked at Molly-O like a puppy waiting to be petted”. For all of the drama of discovery and change in the main characters’ lives, they find direction within a network of familiar relationships in a place called Sequoyah. For the reader, what may really matter at the end of the Lett’s novel is that such a place seems possible.
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