(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Everyone in LETOURNEAU’S USED AUTO PARTS seems to be screaming: E. Blackstone Babbidge silences his pack of bony, abused dogs; Big Lucien’s current wife, the lavender-eyed Karen, shrieks at her unmanageable children; Big Lucien himself terrifies the family with his cries during his seizures; and even the trees in this taut story scream. The meandering plot weaves together suicides, a fatal fire, adultery, incest, and killings. Chute’s gut-level language reinforces the raw anger in a community under economic and emotional siege: People and objects bash, ram, tear, shred, and churn.

In the midst of all the rage, there is wide-eyed humor and a startling grace. Big Lucien’s irrepressible kids “walk the kitchen counters like cats.” Lillian Greenlaw’s decline after her marriage to the cold-hearted Blackstone is marked by her adoption of “a pair of aqua-green pants made of a spongy material she used to say she’d never be caught dead in.” Chute’s untranslatable Americanese takes the reader into a world where everything goes whoosh, plonk, and ernk; it is an utterly unpretentious land.

Junie Marie, with her fierce, quirky hold on life, beams from the pages as the victim most likely to succeed. She finds an unlikely, transformative love with Crowe, whose addiction to shotguns and destruction is first broken down by a tentative touch of Junie’s hair. Junie is one of Big Lucien’s many children, and it is no wonder that she carries the future, as the novel closes, in a child she chooses to name Noah. Big Lucien, who remains out of sight until the final pages, ultimately is the “heart of gold” that keeps the extended family of Miracle City from exploding under the pressure of constant frustration and grief. His active and nearly mythic compassion for these tormented families underlies each twist of the plot--a thread of hope in a hopeless place.

Sources For Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIV, April 15, 1988, p. 1369.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, April 1, 1988, p. 473.

Library Journal. CXIII, June 15, 1988, p. 67.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. June 5, 1988, p. 3.

The Nation. CCXLVII, July 2, 1988, p. 29.

The New Republic. CXCIX, July 11, 1988, p. 40.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, July 31, 1988, p. 9.

Newsweek. CXI, June 13, 1988, p. 79.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, April 29, 1988, p. 63.

Time. CXXXI, June 20, 1988, p. E6.