The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

( 69 )

Overview

Caney Paxton wanted his cafe to have the biggest and brightest sign in Eastern Oklahoma-the "opening soon" part was supposed to be just a removable, painted notice. But a fateful misunderstanding gave Vietnam vet Caney the flashiest joke in the entire state. Twelve years later, the once-busy highway is dead and the sign is as worn as Caney, who hasn't ventured outside the diner since it opened. Then one blustery December day, a thirtyish Crow woman blows in with a three-legged dog in her arms and a long-buried ...

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Overview

Caney Paxton wanted his cafe to have the biggest and brightest sign in Eastern Oklahoma-the "opening soon" part was supposed to be just a removable, painted notice. But a fateful misunderstanding gave Vietnam vet Caney the flashiest joke in the entire state. Twelve years later, the once-busy highway is dead and the sign is as worn as Caney, who hasn't ventured outside the diner since it opened. Then one blustery December day, a thirtyish Crow woman blows in with a three-legged dog in her arms and a long-buried secret on her mind. Hiring on as a carhop, Vena Takes Horse is soon shaking up business, the locals, and Caney's heart...as she teaches them all about generosity of spirit, love, and the possibility of promise-just like the sign says.

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Editorial Reviews

Dallas Morning News
Beautifully written. . . funny, bittersweet. . . prizewinning writers may have to move over to make room for Billie Letts.
Midwest Book Review
A feel-good story, centered in America's heartland, where dreams can still come true and people still care enough about each other to give a leg up when it is needed. . . . A wonderful inspirational book that causes chuckles and tears.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Letts's gently humorous second novel confirms the promise of her debut, Where the Heart Is. For 12 years, wheelchair-bound restaurateur and Vietnam vet Caney Paxton hasn't left his Sequoyah, Okla., cafe, known (thanks to a sign-maker's error) as the Honk and Holler Opening Soon. Now it's Christmas time, 1985, and for Caney and four-times married waitress Molly O, who helped raise him, the holiday looks bleak: business is slumping, overdue bills are piling up and the roof is leaking. Worried about her teenage daughter, Brenda, a country musician seeking her fortune in Nashville, Molly O is too preoccupied to recognize the romantic interest of cafe regular Life Halstead; Caney, ashamed of his part in the war, feels trapped by his wound and his painful past. But that changes when luck brings the Honk and Holler two new employees: beautiful young Crow Indian drifter Vena Takes Horse, who signs on as a carhop, and Vietnamese refugee Bui Khanh, a cook and handyman running from a guilty secret of his own. Initially skeptical of the two outsiders, Honk and Holler habitus come to value Vena and Bui, especially after an act of violence threatens Bui's life. Even a few unresolved loose ends can't diminish the cumulative effect of this warm, sentimental tale, abundant with quirky detail and homespun wisdom, which emphasizes not only the power of romantic love but the healing powers of community as well. Author tour. (June)
Library Journal
Like the 1980 film Inside Moves, this novel from the author of Where the Heart Is (LJ 7/95) blends together a group of damaged, or at least imperfect, individuals in a caf in eastern Oklahoma. Caney, a Vietnam vet confined to a wheelchair, is the proprietor of The Honk and Holler, which he has been running with marginal success since its inception 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Vena Takes Horse shows up unexpectedly with a three-legged dog in tow. As business picks up dramatically, Caney and Vena find comfort in each other's arms. The cast of characters includes Molly O (a surrogate mother to Caney), Molly's wayward daughter, a Vietnamese refugee, a widower with an abiding crush on Molly O, and many others. Together, they create a sense of warmth and community in which reconciliation and love can flourish. Recommended.Kimberly G. Allen, NetworkMCI Lib., Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
A sunny look at the dark side, as a poster groupþa Vietnam vet, an Asian immigrant, a Native American, and an African- American widowþserendipitously find happiness at an Oklahoma diner. Letts (Where the Heart Is, 1995, etc.), while a deft scene-setter, offers characters whose pain seems a plot accessory to be worn until something better comes alongþand whose ultimate happiness feels as superficial as their previous misery. First, there's Vietnam vet Carney, who lost his legs in the war and now runs the caf‚. Helping him is widow Molly O, worried about her runaway teenage daughter Brenda, who wants to be a country music star. Also hanging out are locals like widower þLife,þ who has his eye on Moll; notorious gossip Wanda Sue; and three old Cherokee friends and WWII vets, Hooks, Soldier, and Quentin. Carney, a former rodeo star, is so depressed that he never goes outsideþuntil Native American Vena Take Horse arrives one evening with a wounded dog in her arms (and a lot of psychic baggage). Venaþs past includes drug addiction, a bad marriage, and an abortion, and sheþs still grieving over favorite sister Helen's suicide. But she loves animals, knows old Indian remedies, and soon has the dog cured and Carney back on horsebackþand in love with her. To add to the mix and help Carney sort out his feelings about þNam is the new cook, Vietnamese immigrant Bui, who's saving his wages to bring his wife over to the States. Bui angers Sam, a local bigot who dies whole trying to kill him, after which Bui wins the friendship of African-American Galilee when he rebuilds her church. Vena, now pregnant and still troubled by her past, runs away,but she finds herself again, and everyoneþincluding newly arrived Bui's wifeþgathers back at The Honk and Holler to celebrate. Happiness lite.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446675055
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 324,960
  • Lexile: 980L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Billie Letts is the author of The Honk and Holler Opening Soon and Where the Heart, an Oprah Book Club selection. Both are available from Brilliance Audio. She lives in Oklahoma where, until recently, she was a professor at Southeast Oklahoma University.

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Read an Excerpt


Excerpt


December 1985

Caney switched on the light over his bed and reached for the last of last night's coffee... one cold oily swallow at the bottom of a chipped stoneware mug.

He'd been trying to convince himself he was still asleep ever since he'd heard the rattle of trash cans behind the cafe sometime around three. At least he supposed it was three. Molly O had unplugged the clock on his dresser so she could plug in two sets of lights she'd strung around a scrawny Christmas tree standing in the corner.

Caney had told her he didn't want a tree in his room. He said the one she put up out front beside the jukebox was one too many, but telling Molly O not to do something was like telling a four-year-old not to stick a bean up her nose. So when she started dragging in sacks of pinecones and tangled strands of red tinsel, Caney kept his mouth shut and stayed out of her way. He'd lost enough battles to know when to give up.

Encouraged by his silence, Molly O had thrown herself into a decorating frenzy. After she finished with the trees, she hung aluminum stars from the ceiling fan, but they got tangled around the blades, causing the motor to short out.

She draped silver icicles over a length of clothesline stretched across the center of the room, but every time the door opened, icicles slipped off the line and drifted down onto plates of spaghetti or bowls of vegetable stew.

She brought in a box of old frizzy-haired Barbies that had belonged to her daughter, adorned each one with mistletoe and perched them on top of all the napkin holders. She had to position them straddle legged, as if they were doingsplits, the only way she could manage to tape them down, but the ungainly pose brought lewd comments from a drilling crew that came in for breakfast each morning.

Undaunted by minor flaws and small minds, Molly O pressed on. She carted in candy canes, holiday plants and plastic elves. She hung wreaths, strung popcorn and tacked up cardboard bells.

Finally, she made a trip to Wal-Mart where she found a nativity scene made in Taiwan. She arranged it in the center of the lunch counter and placed the tiny baby Jesus, who looked oddly Oriental, into the bamboo manger.

Finished, Molly O surveyed the Honk and said it looked like a Christmas wonderland. Caney said it looked like a Chinese carnival.

But Christmas was not on his mind as he squirmed, then threw back the covers, sending a paperback sailing off the bed. After a mumbled apology to Louis L'Amour, Caney rubbed at his temples where a headache was just beginning to build.

He thought once again about sleep, but figured it was useless. He knew if he turned off the light and sank back into his pillow, the same old pictures would play in his head, reruns in which he was the only performer... a one-man show.


* * *


Three hundred miles away, at a rest stop near Kansas City, Vena Takes Horse cracked the window of the passenger door, lit a Winston and blew the smoke into the cold predawn air. The driver of the eighteen-wheeler, a shriveled little man who called himself Cobweb, was asleep in the bed behind the seat. He had tried to get Vena to crawl into the back with him, but when she told him to go to hell, he hadn't insisted. He said he reckoned sleep would do him more good than sex, then left her sitting alone up in the front.

He'd picked her up on Interstate 59 just south of Sioux Falls, but they hadn't said much to each other. Cobweb spent most of his talk on his CB, which was fine with Vena. She didn't care much for conversation anyway.

She tossed the last of her cigarette out the window, then put her head back and closed her eyes. She hadn't slept since South Dakota and hoped, now, that sleep would take her, but each time a truck rolled by on the highway, something tightened in her chest that caused her heart to quicken. She wasn't good at staying still.

She thought of trying to get another lift, but a hard rain had begun to fall just before they stopped and she had seen specks of ice in the drops that smacked against the windshield. The cold didn't bother her much, but she didn't like the rain. She didn't like the rain at all.

When she finally decided to give up on sleep, she lifted her duffel bag onto the seat beside her and fished out a half-eaten Hershey, but before she could peel back the wrapper, she heard a noise, a strange sound she couldn't identify.

At first she thought it might have come from Cobweb, a whimpering sound men sometimes make when they dream, when they're not afraid to be afraid. But when she heard it again, she knew it came from outside, from somewhere in the dark.

If she could have convinced herself that what she heard was the whine of tires hugging the wet road or the ping of ice pellets ricocheting off the truck... if she could have made herself believe that, then she wouldn't have crawled out of the cab and climbed to the ground, wouldn't have felt the sting of rain and sleet pelting her face, plastering her hair to her head.

She started toward the light poles ringing the rest stop, but when she heard the sound again, certain it came from the highway, she turned and headed in that direction.

She could hear it more clearly now, a high-pitched mournful wail. As she crossed the grassy strip separating the rest stop from the interstate, a car rounded a curve, headlights sweeping across the darkness as it veered suddenly toward the median, and in a brief slice of light, a moment before the car's passing, she saw something lying on the highway.

She started to run then, but when she reached the shoulder of the road, when she saw what was out there, she slowed, the way people do when dread needs an extra breath.

In the middle of the far lane was a small black dog, one leg ripped off at the bend of a knee where a tendril of slick gray vein protruded, leaking blood onto the wet pavement. The dog, flattened on its side, was trying to lick life into five lifeless pups, vapors of steam rising from their still-warm bodies... and as Vena started across the road, the dog looked up, found her face with its eyes and managed one weak wag of its limp black tail.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is set in Sequoyah, a very small town in Oklahoma. Is it realistic to believe that a Vietnam vet, a Native American woman, an African American woman and a Vietnamese man night come together under the strange circumstances in the book? Do you find it believable that outsiders such as Bui or Vena could be fully accepted into this insular community?

2. Which of the characters do you feel you have most in common with? Why?

3. Bui Khan, a recently arrived immigrant, understands little of the language and culture of the United States, yet he is in search of the American Dream. What are his chances of achieving that dream?

4. Caney Paxton stayed inside the Honk from 1973 until 1985. What major changes in this culture took place during his period of isolation? How will those changes affect his life outside the Honk?

5. Is the relationship that develops between Caney and Vena believable? Why or why not?

6. What do you believe is the theme if this book? Do you think the author fully developed that theme?

7. It seems that several story lines are not concluded by the end of the novel. Bui Khan's wife has not arrived; Brenda is "lost" out there in the bigger world; Molly O and Life are going out together, but there's no indication how their relationship will end; and although Vena and Caney are together, they still have problems to work through. Why do you suppose the author left so many issues unresolved? Do you find this frustrating?

8. Vena Takes Horse isn't "good at staying still" at the beginning of the book, but at the end, she returns to the Honk. Do you think she's changed enough that she'll stay? Do you think Brenda will return to her mother?

9. Are the problems between Molly O and Brenda common between mothers and daughters?

10. How do the regulars at the Honk contribute to the story?

11. Although all of the major characters in The Honk and Holler Opening Soon are adults, the role that children play in the novel is enormous. In fact, many of the novel's pivotal moments revolve around children. Yet Caney, Molly O, Brenda, Vena, Helen, and Bui react so differently to the idea of parenthood. Why is that? Is is easier for Caney and Bui to accept the fact that they are going to be fathers than it is for Molly O, Brenda, Vena and Helen to accept that they are going to be mothers? Is the connection between mother and child always stronger than the bond between father and child?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 69 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(39)

4 Star

(18)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(0)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 69 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Love this book!!!

    I loved this book to the point that I went out and bought another Billie Letts book, but sadly none of her others compare to this one. The characters became my friends, and I really felt like I was a regular at the Honk and Holler Opening Soon. This is an awesome book with great plot twists, along with all the charm small towns have to offer. If you want a really great read, this is definately the book for you. Seriously now one of my all time favorite books.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Read

    I loved this story! Billie Letts is a fantastic author. Her stories are always original and touching. Her characters have problems and it makes them real. It's a great read and I definitely recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2005

    Vena Takes Horse character

    Vena Takes horse is a very strong character, although she has many internal struggles. She has had problems with relationships in the past, she has problems with relationships in the present, and she has many self esteem issues. She doesen't think shes good enough for caney and is scared to stay with him. She is also running from gulit of her past and feels that by moving it will help it go away.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2005

    Billie Letts at her best

    I thought this was such a good book. I hated to finish it. The characters are all so wonderful. I will certainly read it again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2004

    Heartwarming story!

    My sister gave me this book for Christmas and I wasn't too sure about it because of the title. I picked it up and gave it a chance...read it in 3 days, I couldn't put it down! Billie Letts is a very talented author, I can't wait to read 'Shoot the Moon'!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2003

    Characters so real - lovely plot twists !

    The characters in this small town story line are among the best and most intriquing in today's fiction. From the un-lucky at love newly hired waitress , to the handicapped restaurant owner, you will love these people and this glimpse at their lives. A thoughtful look at the emotional hardships that all carry around with them. Many truly funny and inventive moments too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2014

    Another wholesome down-home novel by Billie Letts. After readin

    Another wholesome down-home novel by Billie Letts. After reading Where the Heart Is, I started looking to read everything else she wrote. The Honk and Holler Opening Soon shows off Letts' specialty; quirky, loveable characters. They are all broken in some way, but manage to keep going. The story slows down and plods along in a few places, but never enough that I wanted to stop reading. The book teaches about perseverance and that there are blue skies after the rain.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    ?? ??

    Isnt this a movie???

    -a certain person....
    •^_^• <--those are dimples :)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Heartwarming Story--If you can suspend reality Simply put, this

    Heartwarming Story--If you can suspend reality

    Simply put, this is a pleasant, heartwarming story filled with several hard 
    luck, often quirky, characters who make each other's lives a little better. It is 
    reminiscent of Fannie Flagg's novels and characters. I liked the book so much,I wanted to believe that this could really happen, and that's my only issue with the story. Where else but in fiction, can someone just walk into a diner and start working for tips? No application. No proof of citizenship. I could believe someone forced to live in an abandoned bus, maybe even being able to slip into an open window of a church to live, but the harsh realities of being homeless is that once you lose your place to live and with it a postal address, you lose your ability to work, to get assistance, to do just about anything, and this novel skirts that very serious issue. Reading the other customer reviews, however, it appears I am the only one who had a problem with that. If you can ignore that simple piece of reality, this is a wonderful , likeable story. Certainly worth the read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    Characters you can identify with.

    This book is another great read from down to earh author Billie Letts.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2012

    Good Reading

    Ms.Letts does an amazing job of telling her stories. You will be hooked until the end.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    Fabulous book

    I loved this book! It's impossible not to fall in love with the characters and the entire town of Seqoyah, Oklahoma. I truly hope that Billie Letts writes a sequel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011

    Sweet and gentle read

    I really enjoyed rhe magic of this book and hated to get to the last page. Wish there was more to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2011

    this needs to be a movie

    i enjoyed the everyday gossip that took place inthis book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2011

    Not just a girl book!

    I picked this up in Mexico and read it in one day.

    It is one of the best books I have read in a long time..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2011

    A transporting, feel-good read

    I loved this book! I just fell in love with all the characters. I love stories like this. You are totally transported to Sequoyah, Oklahoma and into the Honk and Holler Opening Soon and the lives of the lovable inhabitants of this small town (much like my own) where it seems everybody knows everybody. Highly recommended if you are looking for a wonderful story that will capture your heart.

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  • Posted April 11, 2011

    Very Good Book.

    I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed 'Where the Heart Is.'This book was an easy read without being boring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2008

    A good, easy read

    Having worked my college years in a restaurant bar very similar to The Honk I found this book very enjoyable. I read this for a book club and we had a good time discussing the various characters and we could all relate to at least one of them in one way or another.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2006

    Enjoyed this book

    Loved this quirky cast of characters. Left me wanting more! Would be neat to have a sequel to this to see how the characters have evolved over several years.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2003

    wonderful!

    The characters arefascinating and real life. A perfect book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 69 Customer Reviews

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