A lovely coming-of-age story of a couple of kids raised — and I use that term loosely — by their divorced father after their mother just up and left them 5 years ago.
Nice example of how maybe competency exams for being allowed to have children might just be a good idea. The mother is a narcissistic, self-involved woman, and the dad is ….. OK, a drunk. Alcoholic? Maybe, but definitely a drunk. The mother insists on saddling her kids with unusual names so they would stand out and be special. So she names her daughter Leticia, which being a common name here in Mexico, I don’t consider so bad. But the brother, born 4 years later, gets stuck with Englebert. But mom loses interest, and swans off from their Cape Cod home to Key West, Florida, with another man, a brash annoying fellow named Orlando, leaving the drinking dad to muddle through alone with the child care of his then 3 year old son and 8 year old daughter.
So dad does what he has always done, goes to work as a bartender during the day, hangs around drinking with his friends through the evening, leaving little Lettie to take care of the brother pretty much on her own.
For Lettie, the absent mother has taken on aspects of a mystery women, and Lettie is more and more into the idea of seeing her again, although they have never heard from her in that five year interval. The dad being mostly drunk and stingy, they never have any money, and Lettie takes to minor shoplifting, more for sport than need, and is finally caught changing price tags on a CD, dad gets totally pissed, and in a flash, sends the kids off to stay with mom in Florida for 6 weeks.
The step father turns out to be awful, the mother not much less so, the visit is terrible, they live only a few steps above poverty and in squalor, Lettie develops, now at 13, the Teenage Mouth, and has a lot to say to her mother about why she left, etc, etc. You can just imagine. The mother, meanwhile, is all “But you are not giving me a chance to make amends. It is your fault we are not together.” Told you she was a narcissist. Well, a week before the kids are due to go back to Cape Cod, Lettie mouths off big time to her mother, the step father loses his shit, grabs her and her plane ticket, and drops her off at the airport, and drives away. She is forced to wait there alone through the night until a flight in the morning. The mother never comes after her.
She returns back home to find that her father is involved with a nice woman from his place of work, has stopped drinking and started attending AA meetings, has cleaned up the house, and has begun actually talking to her. They fear the mother may not allow the brother to return, but all is well.
Several months later, Lettie is outside her house and a fancy car drives up, and it is her mother, wanting to try again to have a relationship with her kids. Oh! Gee, really? Yeah. The step father was snagged for smuggling, and is in prison, the mother has divorced him and taken up with another guy, and life goes on. Lettie says basically, thanks for the relationship offering, but no thanks. Bug off. We don’t need you.
Epilogue of everybody all grown up, and married, and the mother living in South America being an artist, cue the sweet music, fade to black.
Nice book. I really enjoyed it. Nothing new. Sometimes families suck. Sometimes you don’t get to have the mother you want, sometimes you just gotta grow up on your own. But at least it had a realistically happy ending. The mother never improved, she just kept on being the self-centered person that she was, but dad was able to get his act together. That is realistic. Expecting someone to make a 180 degree personality turnaround is not realistic. I am satisfied with the ending.