Billie Letts






Warner Books, May 1999
Paperback Reissue 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Oklahoma, 1985-86
The Honk and Holler diner was built on big dreams. Its huge, catchy neon sign contributed to its success. But those dreams and the town around them have long since faded, by the time Vena Takes Horse drifts in looking for work. The Honk and Holler is so used to losing money that it takes the staff a while to cope with all the business Vena is suddenly bringing in. Vena is a natural caretaker, a drifter with so much tragedy in her past that she can no longer even consider staying anywhere and letting it catch up with her. But while she is here, she is the direct cause of many wonderful things.
A fascinating group allows Vena into their lives with more or less willingness. Caney Paxton, owner of the Honk, who is still trapped in the killing fields of Vietnam. MollyO, trying to find a use for her motherliness. Life Halstead, who has found the one woman he thinks can revive him, after the death of his wife and all her secret talents. Galilee Jackson, the most unlikely person possible to feed the starving soul of lost Bui Khanh. Sam Kellam, spending his life fighting back against his dead, twisted father, waiting for his chance.
In our love for Vena, we might overlook the other influence in reawakening the Honk and Holler to its dreams. Bui Khanh is trying to make a place in the United States so he can bring his wife from Vietnam. Bui can barely understand or speak English; he must communicate in other ways. At first people donít understand those other ways, but his eagerness to help is impossible to ignore, and so, gradually, is his impact on those around him. Bui is an endearing soul struggling with problems almost too big even for  his courage.
THE HONK AND HOLLER OPENING SOON is an exceptional handing of the familiar Redemptive Stranger theme. In spite of the dingy setting, reading it is like slowly unwrapping a Christmas present. The Honk and Holler is planted in a long winter of the spirit from which spring begins to open like cactus flowers. A broadening community, seeing that help is needed, are jolted into caring for each other again. The warmth of the ending is a magic that lives on in our minds as long as the characters do.
Award winning author Billie Letts also wrote WHERE THE HEART IS, from which the film starring Natalie Portman was made. SHOOT THE MOON was her new release of 2004. Letts has written a screenplay for THE HONK AND HOLLER OPENING SOON. It is to be hoped we will see a movie from it, and that the story will retain all the humanity of the original.
March 2005 Review


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