Travis Mulhauser was guest host of #LitChat at 4 p.m. E.T. on March 28, 2016. Read the chatscript of Travis’s #LitChat session here.
With the heart, daring, and evocative atmosphere of Winter’s Bone and True Grit, and driven by the raw, whip-smart voice of Percy James, in Sweetgirl, Travis Mulhauser makes a blistering debut about a fearless sixteen-year old girl whose search for her missing mother leads to an unexpected discovery, and a life or 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. For years, Percy has had to take care of herself and Mama—a woman who’s been unraveling for as long as her daughter can remember. Fearing Carletta is strung out on meth and that she won’t survive the storm, Percy heads for Shelton Potter’s cabin, deep in the woods of Northern Michigan. A two-bit criminal, as incompetent as he his violent, Shelton has been smoking his own cook and grieving the death of his beloved Labrador, Old Bo.
But when Percy arrives, there is no sign of Carletta. Searching the house, she finds Shelton and his girlfriend drugged into oblivion—and a crying baby girl left alone in a freezing room upstairs. From the moment the baby wraps a tiny hand around her finger, Percy knows she must save her—a split-second decision that is the beginning of a dangerous odyssey in which she must battle the elements and evade Shelton and a small band of desperate criminals, hell-bent on getting that baby back.
Knowing she and the child cannot make it alone, Percy seeks help from Carletta’s ex, Portis Dale, who is the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. As the storm breaks and violence erupts, Percy will be forced to confront the haunting nature of her mother’s affliction and finds her own fate tied more and more inextricably to the baby she is determined to save.
Filled with the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of its setting—the hills of fictional Cutler County in northern Michigan—and told in Percy’s unflinching style, 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.
Travis Mulhauser is from Petoskey, Michigan. In addition to Sweetgirl, he is the author of Greetings from Cutler County, a novella and collection of short stories set in northern Michigan. Mulhauser lives in Durham, N.C. with his wife and two children.
Follow Travis Mulhauser on Twitter: @slangjive.
Photo of Travis Mulhauser by Viki Redding.