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Sweetgirl: A Novel Paperback – November 1, 2016
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” A riveting novel... far, far funnier than it has any right to be. If you’re a fan of Charles Portis and Denis Johnson--and if you’re not, then you should be--then this is book is exactly what you’ve been wanting, what you’ve been waiting for.” (Brock Clarke, author of The Happiest People in the World)
“[Sweetgirl is] filled with true wit, cunning, and the unwanted wisdom of a child denied a childhood. This novel comes on like the blizzard at its center, and leaves you dazzled and dazed not only by how much Travis Mulhauser knows, but how deeply he cares.” (Michael Parker, author of All I Have in this World)
“There’s a big old neon heart pulsing on every page of Sweetgirl, like the sign to a bar you can’t help but enter. I felt thrilled and shocked, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Travis Mulhauser is a writer to be reckoned with.” (Lindsay Hunter, author of Ugly Girls and Don't Kiss Me)
“Sweetgirl is a gritty, compelling novel of a world where even a sixteen-year-old must confront what Edith Wharton called ‘the hard considerations of the poor.’ Mulhauser depicts his people and their landscape with uncompromising fidelity.” (Ron Rash)
“[A] compulsively readable novel...finish the first chapter and you will be hooked...violent, dark, and impressively redemptive... Sweetgirl is a upper-Midwestern homage to great American quest novels like True Grit and Winter’s Bone. It is a truly memorable and remarkable read.” (Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs)
“The perfect balance of humor and heartache... a masterful debut... as wise as it is suspenseful, as funny as it is tragic... written with guts, grit, and grace, Sweetgirl is the book you want to keep you company on a cold winter’s night.” (Ploughshares, Best Books of the New Year)
“Sweetgirl works on so many levels, it’s difficult to know how to classify it... hilarious, heartbreaking and true, a major accomplishment from an author who looks certain to have an impressive career ahead of him.” (NPR)
A lean gutpunch of a novel surfaced from Cutler County this month, and its name is Sweetgirl—a lyrical tale that practically demands to be read in a single sitting. (Paste Magazine)
“smart, taut, and believable writing” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“Mulhauser has created a suspenseful tale of sadness and redemption.” (Herald-Sun (Durham, NC))
“So good that I read a few paragraphs aloud to my podiatrist... “Sweetgirl,” by Travis Mulhauser of Durham. Though meth and drugs infest almost every page, this debut novel is chillingly lyrical and filled with a love so raw and fierce it takes your breath.” (Charlotte Observer)
“Though the story takes place in a chaotic Michigan blizzard, fans of Ozark-based grit lit will feel right at home in Travis Mulhauser’s gorgeous, lyrical Sweetgirl... With characters that toe the line between doom and hope, Sweetgirl delivers compelling, emotional resonance.” (Paste Magazine)
“[Y]ou can’t help but smile at this disarmingly original novel... Travis Mulhauser traverses a wobbling slack line across a moral crevasse that few of us will experience. Yet there’s a devastating credibility to the events he creates.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“[L]ean yet poetic prose” (Popmatters.com)
“The writing is gorgeous and the stakes rise steadily from the moment Percy first sets out, making this slim novel surprisingly vicious and taut.” (Bookriot.com)
From the Back Cover
A blistering debut driven by the raw, whip-smart voice of Percy James, a fearless sixteen-year-old girl whose search for her missing mother leads to a life-and-death struggle in the harsh frozen landscape of the upper Midwest.
As a blizzard bears down, Percy James sets off to find her troubled mother, Carletta, who’s been unraveling for as long as her daughter can remember. Fearing Carletta is strung out on meth and won’t survive the storm, Percy heads for the cabin of her mother’s dealer, Shelton Potter, deep in the woods of northern Michigan.
But instead of Carletta, Percy discovers a crying baby girl alone in a freezing room. Percy knows she must save her—a split-second decision that commences a dangerous odyssey in which Percy must battle the elements and evade a small band of desperate criminals on her trail.
Filled with the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of its setting, Sweetgirl is an affecting exploration of courage, sacrifice, and the ties that bind, a taut and darkly humorous tour de force that is horrifying, tender, and hopeful.
Top customer reviews
While desperately searching for her mother, Percy makes the singularly moral decision to snatch a sick baby from the house of a passed-out meth dealer. Attempting to get the baby to the hospital, she spends most of the novel scrambling through an apocalyptic blizzard. On her journey, she has only two supports: the distant example of her older sister who escaped to Oregon, and one of her mother’s alcoholic ex-boyfriends who also happens to be the closest thing she’s ever had to a father.
And while Percy is the center of the book, Mulhauser coaxes us into identifying with and caring for the most reprehensible of the downtrodden characters we encounter. One of the ways he works this magic is to switch from chapters told in first person by Percy, to those told in third person which track the meth dealer Shelton Potter after he wakes up and starts looking for the baby himself. Because Mulhauser is a master craftsman, the switch is so seamless and the cadences of the language so consistent, that our empathy extends before we realize it.
We come to feel so much for Percy because she feels so much for everyone else. From the first selfless act of taking the baby to finally confronting her drug-addicted mother, her fierce compassion extends to characters who can seemingly only act from their worst selves. Certainly, it burns even more brightly for the few lost souls who struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives and do what’s right. Like the unmoving leg of a compass, Percy’s emotional and moral grounding steadies the reader as events quickly spin out of control.
Mulhauser’s economy and plot compression –the book clocks in at a lean two hundred forty pages and the action spans only a few days—work together to raise Sweetgirl’s narrative to the level of myth. In a forgotten place, forgotten people struggle against their worst impulses and the power of nature itself. Like Shelley’s wretch, or the archetype he was based on, Milton’s Satan, these characters carry a hell inside of them. Does it consume them, prompting them to plunge into self-defeating narcissism? Or does the cold sting of pain wake in them an altruism that is something like salvation?
The magic of Mulhauser’s novel is that he explores both possibilities. And while at times the chaos that ensues is operatic, almost Greek in its scope, the heart of this book is a quieter revelation: we are not merely the sum of our misdeeds; all of us are more.
I only gave it 4 stars because there were times when the description of the Michigan snowstorm became too much. There were too many times when the description impeded the movement of the story. I was also a little disappointed in how Mr. Mulhauser handled the character of Percy's mother, but it was mild disappointment in comparison to the plot and other better drawn characters.
You'll fall in love with Percy (a girl) and Portis Dale as they try to escape a bunch of meth heads in a Michigan blizzard. I recommend it.