The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts starts off with a look inside the personal lives of several people. We meet our characters. Our characters are a woman named Molly O who knows her daughter is going down a hard path, a man named Caney who sits in a wheelchair after his service in Vietnam, a Vietnamese man named Bui who is waiting for his wife to come to America and a Cherokee woman named Vena Takes Horse who is confused about where her life should be. Each of these characters come together in a small town in Oklahoma. The place that brings them together is The Honk and Holler Cafe Opening Soon.
The name was originally going to be just The Honk and Holler, but a night of a little debauchery and some alcohol, caused the phrase “opening soon” to be added to the neon sign made by Leon Neon. The sign is a town joke, but people have learned to live with it in the twelve years that the cafe has been open.
Caney lives at the cafe and hasn’t been out of it since he first went in it. Molly O is a surrogate mother to Caney who lost his parents when he was younger. Molly O takes care of Caney and she knows he is dealing with some hard times. He never talks about Vietnam. Molly O’s daughter, Brenda, travels around the country with sleazy men singing country songs. Molly O doesn’t know where she went wrong or what to do about it.
Vena picks up an injured dog and begs for a job at the cafe. Caney does not have the heart to turn her away. She gets the bright idea to take food out to people in the parking lot. This causes business to pick up a little at the cafe.
Bui also ends up at the cafe. He runs away from the place he was living because he accidentally hit a woman’s car. The woman was very upset, so Bui left. He doesn’t speak a lot of English. He gets fired from a car washing job and somehow ends up at the cafe. He says he will cook or fix things up. He sets to work right away repairing the cafe.
Everyone is getting repaired in a way. Life Halstead is slowly making progress as far as asking Molly O out. His wife died six months previously and Molly O is a widow as well. Life eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cafe every day. Bui learns more English and is taught to read by an elderly woman who is just delighted to have him helping fix up her church, which he does for free. Bui’s wife is in Vietnam and he finds out she has had to do something terrible, but he doesn’t care. Bui is a very forgiving person. Vena has to come to terms with her sister’s death. She has to figure out if having a family is what is meant for her. Caney learns to go outside and trust other people.
The book is set in an earlier period. Because the Vietnam war is so fresh in everyone’s memory, Bui is not taken to kindly in the small town. In fact, he meets a bit of trouble at some point in the book. He is saved by an unlikely character, who also plays a part in saving Caney.
Brenda shows up for a little while and gets Molly’s hopes up.
It seems the book is about mending relationships and forging new ones.
What I liked
This is actually a very sweet book. There are some darker things in it, just like other Billie Letts’ books, but it’s got this feel-good vibe about it. We meet these characters and they struggle with their demons. They learn to trust each other more. They learn to make new friendships. They learn to defy stereotypes. Life changes in a big way for all of them over the course of the book.
At this point, I have to wonder if Billie knows people I’m related to. There is so much in this book that sounds familiar. For example, the name Halstead. My great-aunt, who happens to be an author, has the last name Halstead. The one thing that I find somewhat ironic in all of this is that Life Halstead’s dead wife was actually something of a writer. Seriously, how weird is that? There is also a reference to the Wilhelmina lodge. The Wilhelmina lodge is not in a place called Stony Brook as the book suggests, but is actually in Mena, Arkansas. My grandfather’s family is from Mena. My aunt actually wrote a book about Mena. They actually used to be connected to the Wilhelmina Lodge in some way, but I’m not sure exactly how. I have been to this place, but I was so young that I do not remember the experience. The Wilhelmina Lodge is now a state park. Seriously, does Billie know people I’m related to? I really have to wonder. Billie is from Oklahoma, my family is from Oklahoma. I’m very curious.
I actually tried to do some research on Billie. Apparently, she’s kind of hermitish(this is probably not a real word.) Billie has published five books and has been a college professor at the South Eastern Oklahoma University, or something similarly named. She is also the same age as my grandmother. Billie apparently lives in Tulsa; I have never been to Tulsa. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything else out about Billie. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure if she’s still alive.
What I didn’t like
I kind of wish we got to meet Bui’s family. The issue with his car accident also seems unresolved. I guess that’s not a terrible thing though. Brenda seems like a real brat. Goodness, I know brats like her. She sounds like fifty teenagers that I have had the displeasure to know. Billie is definitely good at writing the character of a teenage brat. Kudos Billie.
I really enjoyed this book. I would suggest you read it if you’ve read Where the Heart Is or you are a fan of Fannie Flagg.