by Melissa DeCarlo
• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (September 8, 2015)
Broke and knocked up, Mattie Wallace has got all her worldly possessions crammed into six giant trash bags and nowhere to go. Try as she might, she really is turning into her late mother, a broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.
When Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around. Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother. The deeper Mattie digs for answers, the more precarious her situation becomes. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her own.
“Queeg has a simple classification system when it comes to the men I date. They’re all idiots. I like to think it has something to do with them not being good enough for me, but I suspect it has more to do with them being stupid enough to date me.”
“One is a little larger than the other, but overall the Winstons look alike – tan fur, short legs, stubby bodies, bat like ears. They snort and trot around like little pigs, and already there has been significant fartage… JJ informed me, when he dropped them off, that they were French bulldogs, which has led me to reassess my opinion of the French. They may know a lot about making wine and fries, but they don’t know jacques-merde about making dogs.”
“Although my mother had a long track record as a serial dater-of-losers, I really think she tried to avoid the dangerous ones. She wasn’t always successful. She shielded me from as much of the actual violence as she could, but it was harder to hide the results. You win some, you lose some, she’d say as she iced a twisted wrist, or blotted blood from a split lip. Love was a game for my mother. Sometimes it was a contact sport.”
“Queeg always said that normal people are just people you don’t know very well, and as far as I can tell, he was right on the money with that one.”
I knew I was in for a ride when the first paragraph already had me smirking and barking a laugh. And then it was on! I am astounded to learn this highly amusing and stunningly well-written story was penned by a first time author. The narrative is well-paced, the story is artfully crafted, and the writing is simply stellar! But I seriously didn’t know if I was going to be able to care for the main character of Mattie, as she is immature, irresponsible, and selfishly cruel. She is also 30 years old, broke, homeless, unemployed, and knocked-up by her latest loser ex… yikes. Not a likely heroine. I found her to be grossly undependable, and just an awful and lackluster human being as well as a major disappointment to those few who tried to help or be nice to her. She took advantage of others and generally made herself scarce or took the easy way out when others wanted to rely on her.
To her credit, Mattie had survived an awful childhood as a bastard child of an alcoholic mother. She is clever and witty, and does have keen observational skills and considerable insight into herself. She makes painfully honest, and humorously snarky self-revelations and observations about her failings; she knows when she is being an ass, but doesn’t do anything to stop herself. Yet she also has a knack for carrying and wearing her personal pain and harbors considerable guilt and anguish. She loved/hated her mother, she loves/hates herself. She loves her ex-step-father (whom she has nicknamed Queeg) but never tells him and continually takes advantage of him.
While reading the often cringe-worthy recollections of her life with her mother and her current concerns and behaviors, I frequently laughed aloud to the point of cackling. Her irreverent and cheeky accounting of her life as well as her acerbic observations of others is highly entertaining and totally engrossing. The conversation she had with a swearing seven-year old mortician’s daughter had me howling, and still brings up a smirk and a chuckle even now. And just as quickly, she has squeezed my cold heart to the point of blurred vision and a tight chest, during her brutally painful reflections of her less than stellar behaviors toward her alcoholic mother and her kind and long-suffering step-father in their times of need. Nearing the conclusion, as Mattie had uncovered and solved a puzzling mystery about her mother and family, and having achieved some inner peace – she turned a significant corner. The emotional impact of this brought me to my knees and was deeply felt. I found myself so moved that I had to stop and fight back actual sobs to continue reading. Regardless of whether she is a new author or a seasoned pro – Ms. DeCarlo is a talented wordsmith and has mad skills. I hope to see much more from her in the future.
Melissa DeCarlo was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and has worked as an artist, graphic designer, grant writer, and even (back when computers were the size of refrigerators) a computer programmer. The Art of Crash Landing is her first novel. Melissa now lives in East Texas with her husband and a motley crew of rescue animals.