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[whitespace] Remember Me Plains' Jane: "Out east you make other people's ideas. Out west you set up your own."

Pretty Wombyn

Laura Hendrie helps a riot girl find home

By Norah Forman

Reading Remember Me was not unlike hearing the Tom Petty record blaring from my neighbor's apartment at 9 on a recent Saturday morning. In my perfect world I might have slept until noon and awoken to freshly brewed coffee and eggs Benedict. Yet I woke up in my makeup without feeling wilted and tired--I was psyched to hear some real derivative American rock & roll. Not expected, not my choice, but damn it, sometimes you need to put away the electronica and sing along to "Free Falling." Remember Me has no hipsters, no drugs, no psychopaths, no models, and no postmodern commentary. It isn't even set on either coast. Instead, it's an all-American kind of story which draws you in with a familiar but effective formula.

Laura Hendrie's second novel is set in a small, fictional New Mexico mountain town, Quedero, in which small-mindedness and gossip reign. The town's main income is derived from selling heirloom embroidery to tourists. Hendrie vividly creates the iron grip the town has on its inhabitants. Trying to break free is her riot girl of a heroine (southwestern style) Rose Devonic, the "town pariah." Rather than a scarlet A, Rose wears the mark of wild red hair, clothes falling apart at the seams. She's sassy but sad, unkempt but beautiful, intelligent yet foul- mouthed. The contradictions of Rose's character definitely have a Pretty Woman feel that makes her just as likable as the ever-charming Julia Roberts.

As the novel begins we learn Rose is returning for the winter to the town's motel, run by Birdie, an elderly alcoholic with a fondness for Butterfingers and Rose's deceased mother. He is also Rose's best friend and surrogate family. Upon her arrival Birdie suffers a stroke and Rose is left homeless and alone. To make matters worse, Birdie goes to live with his aging sister Alice, who believes Rose was somehow responsible for the car accident that killed not only Rose's entire family but also Alice's sister.

The power of the novel rests in the manner Rose fights her way back into the hearts of the townspeople--she must remind them of both who they are and how she fits into their history. Rose begins this journey by learning to love an Alzheimer's-stricken Alice (who of course has forgotten Rose's true identity) and gains strength and direction through revisiting her own history.

Part of that history was an uncle who wanted a better life than what the town's legacy of embroidery had to offer. In the aftermath of Birdie's stroke, Rose remembers the words of her uncle: "Out east you make other people's ideas. Out west you set up your own." Her uncle's entrepreneurial projects were looked down upon by the townspeople, but he persevered, eventually breaking through by selling intricately carved Indian heads. Rose looks to this example of believing fiercely in oneself to navigate her own adulthood.

While normally it might be hard for a cosmopolitan girl like me to get worked up about Indian heads and embroidery, Hendrie hooked me with the creation of a familiar yet enduring heroine and most importantly a story which speaks to the American dreamer in all of us .

Remember Me, by Laura Hendrie, Henry Holt, 373 pages.

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From the September 27, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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