(Reviewed by Guy Savage OCT 6, 2007)
"She’s starting to lose that halo around her. In the morning light, she’s not all glamour. She’s starting to look a little less heaven-sent and a little more like someone you might see down at the track. In the mirror, I see now about how she has tiny wrinkles threatening to spread across her forehead. I’m watching her and I’m thinking to myself that I can’t tell if she’s good or bad. She’s one of those people you don’t know about until something happens, something big. And I’m wondering, as I look at her wheat-spun hair in the golden light, what, exactly, that something will be."
First time novelist Andrea Portes brings us an Oprah-esque heroine in Hick, a bildungsroman about an unloved, neglected, but tenacious teenager who experiences the dark underbelly of life after she runs away from home. Mired in poverty, soured by a hellish home life, and stuck in the middle of Nebraska, 13-year old Luli is ripe for trouble. All too aware of the power of her budding sexuality, Luli can’t wait to try out her powers of seduction on the first man fate throws into her path.
When the novel begins, Luli is spending a typical evening with her delinquent parents, Tammy and Nick at a local bar. While terminally unemployed Nick downs drink after drink, and gets nastier with each one, Tammy, an embittered washed out blonde, an “aging Brigitte Bardot, ten years later and twenty pounds past what might have been” launches into hysterical recriminations. Luli can predict the accusations that fly between her parents, and marks the disintegration of their social behavior by the drinks they consume. It’s a “little drama played out, night after night, season by season, and Dad and Tammy are the stars of the show.” One night, however, their argument escalates, and the next day Luli’s father leaves.
Street-smart Luli, who was taught by Tammy to steal when she was ten years old, doesn’t really fancy the prospect of sticking around her derelict farmhouse home watching Tammy and her new love interest, an “old gray-suit peeled worm.” To Luli, Tammy is “like some kind of blond tick, she’ll just suck and suck until she’s all swelled up with blood, sweat and tears, like a needy grape.” Realizing “we have an abundance of shiftless ranch hands, but sugar daddies are in short supply” Luli decides to hitchhike west to Las Vegas.
Eager to practice her sexual wiles on the next male she comes across, Luli is quickly given a ride by a skinny, obsessive and violent cowboy named Eddie Kreezer. Shortly after meeting Eddie, Luli meets a blonde grifter named Glenda who serves as a sort of skewed role model for the damaged, precocious thirteen-year-old girl. After Glenda imparts various tidbits of wisdom (“Think someone’s okay and then they start to act real nutso and turn into some snoring shitbag and next thing you know you’re tied to the bathtub”), she begins to see Luli’s potential as a partner-in crime. Soon Luli learns to “drool on command.”
If you enjoyed novels such as Where the Heart Is and She’s Come Undone, then there’s a good chance you’ll also enjoy Hick. I enjoyed the novel and Luli’s consistently brash, confident, and entertaining voice, but I found it difficult at times to align this voice with a thirteen-year-old. While Luli’s descriptions of her parent’s rotten marriage are entirely believable, other parts—some of Luli’s thought processes about the outside world, for example, are not so believable (see the ranch hands/sugar daddies quote). This bothered me for the first part of the novel, and so I made a conscious effort to overcome this by imagining that Luli was a few years older. This helped tremendously, and I discovered that I didn’t trip so much over the believability factor. Some parts of the novel are quite funny. Luli is a tough girl with a natural born survival instinct, but at the same time, she’s a lost little girl who, recognizing parts of her mother in herself, realizes that she’s inherited “some of that suction-sup need to be looked at and keened over.” She’s desperate to belong somewhere to something, and so she latches on to the first human beings who show any interest in her. Thanks to Luli’s descriptive narrative, this is a remarkably visual novel. I’d love to see it made into a film.
- Amazon readers rating: from 29 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Hick at Unbridled Books
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Hick (May 2007)
Movies from Books:
- Hick (2012)
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- Official website for Andre Portes
- Emerging Writers Network interview with Andrea Portes
- Reading Group Guide for Hick
- PopMatters review of Hick
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About the Author:
Andrea Portes grew up in rural Nebraska, later shuffling between Illinois, Texas, Brazil, North Dakota and North Carolina before attending Bryn Mawr College. She received her MFA from UC San Diego and became a script reader for Paramount Pictures. She now lives in Los Angeles and is a nightlife columnist for several websites.