“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage
Clarence “Cutthroat” Johnson certainly changed huge chunks of the world. And yes, he cast his stones across the waters and created many, many ripples. The thing is, of course, that the huge chunks of the world he changed crashed in on the people who inhabited those chunks, and the stones he cast destroyed lives and crushed families. He always said, “You have to have a tough hide to succeed.” Yep. And succeed he did. He succeeded in making billions, more than he could ever spend in several lifetimes. But that doesn’t do you any good when the Reaper comes your way. The Reaper doesn’t take checks. He doesn’t even take cash. But seeing the creature in the black robes standing over your shoulder can make you look back at what you have done with your life – and sometimes? It makes you think. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance is all natural – but sending his spoiled rotten daughter, who never worked a day in her life, and lived for her hair and nails and various charity events and social gatherings, to live in a ghost town in the Texas Hill Country with seven other people, and told to “make something” of the town before she can earn her inheritance?! Seven other people from the “lower” classes at that?!
“How are we going to shop? Can I get my nails done?
Yep. This isn’t starting out well. And telling Daddy’s Little Princess she should be a “good sport”, well, you know that went over well. So, Daddy’s Little Cleo sets out with an eclectic band of misfits to Fat Chance, Texas. Well, not exactly “with” – Daddy may have taken away the family private plane, along with all access to the family funds, but there is no way she is climbing on a rented RV with Titan, Polly, Dymphna, Elwood, Wally Wasabi, and Old Bertha. So, she packs up more fancy clothes than she can fit in the trunk of her stretch limo (Stilettos? And mink coats? In a ghost town? Really?), stuffs her family retainer behind the wheel, and they leave California for Fat Chance. Fat Chance this is going to work out, right? Especially when the unexpected seventh person in the group turns out to be her ex-husband, Marshall “Let’s call me ‘Powderkeg’ like a Pirate cause everyone else has cool nicknames!” Primb.
Cutthroat destroyed these seven people’s lives, or the lives of their families, in one way or another through his long, money-grubbing career, starting with Wally’s grandfather and working his way down to his latest bit of destruction, buying the land Dymphna live quietly upon, raising her sheep, spinning yarn and selling her knitting, right out from under her. A pristine, pastoral life, destroyed in the name of greed and rampant over-development. Now, he is determined to “help” them to “Get up, get out, and achieve the American Dream.” If they can live in Fat Chance for six months and create a functioning, successful town, Cleo gets her millions – and the rest get three years’ wages. And if three years wages for each doesn’t add up to $100,000, well, they each get that amount. As Dymphna puts it, “I guess he figures if we’re stuck there for six months, we might as well give it a shot.”
What happens next, as these eight completely disparate people come together in a dusty, ramshackle town where the buildings seem to be holding together on a wing and a prayer, the only road has been washed out for years, and no one has been near the place since the 1950’s – well, except for crotchety, gun-wielding old Pappy, the town’s Mayor, Sheriff, Banker, and all around butt-kicker. An old, “old” friend of Cutthroat’s, Pappy is there to make sure they don’t self-combust in the first week.
This book really touched a place deep inside for me. People with no shared history, no common interests, thrown together in a place where they are pretty much completely isolated and forced to learn to barter goods and services and to rely on one another for survival, in what amounts to a “post-apocalyptic” landscape. The only store for fresh food and supplies is a four-mile hike, with only Jerry Lee the mule and Thud the Bloodhound for pack animals. Watching these strangers pulling together to make a community is charming. Developing a fellowship, learning to survive with little, as well as learning to be a grocer, a hostler, and myriad other business owners – well, the story was so creative, and so positive, I couldn’t resist reading it straight through. There is pain and disappointment, but there is also hope and happiness to be had in Fat Chance. And at the end of the six months? Well, read it and see!
I received this book in exchange for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own. Oh, and one thing I really liked about it? Everybody learning to live and work closely, without the author falling into the whole “let’s pair everyone off romantically” trope. Refreshing!
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