The Honk and Holler Opening Soon – Billie Letts (1999)
There’s a lot to be said for a good title. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have given this book by Billie Letts a second glance, if not for the fact that she called it The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. I mean, really, how can you resist a book with that splashed all over it?
Turns out, the book is every bit as good as its title, perhaps more so. It’s a slice-of-life tale chronicling the goings-on of a seriously diverse collection of characters, all spokes centering around the hub (or “not-so-hub”) of a rather ramshackle cafe in Oklahoma. The cafe’s owner, Caney Paxton, is a lonely recluse haunted by his past, and his long-time employee and “mother” figure Molly O is menopausal and desperate for the affection of her only daughter, a teenaged country singer who has a multitude of problems of her own. Enter Vena Takes Horse, a wandering soul with a past even darker than Caney’s, and the Vietnamese handyman and cook Bui, and the cafe’s employees – and patrons – undergo a transformation they never realized was possible. There’s something really magical about this story: while Letts lays out all of the flaws and disappointments and misdeeds of her characters without any sort of gloss, she always seems to flip the coin and offer a bright side. Caney constantly tells Vena that he doesn’t care about her past, what she did before she met him – he only cares about the woman she is now, in the cafe, with him. This seems to be the whole premise of the novel, that while the past is certainly a mold, it is possible to reshape it. There are deep explorations of the themes of love and friendship, and community and home, as well as a sort of spiritual thread that is refreshing instead of preachy. It’s not a breakthrough as far as literary works are concerned, but it’s the kind of book that leaves you with a smile after you’ve turned the final page. And sometimes that’s more than you can ask for.