A hardscrabble life on a small cotton farm in swampy northeast Louisiana in the ‘40s and ‘50s shapes an introverted boy’s view of the world in this richly detailed, yet flatly developed novel.
Devon, a “feisty, clumsy, backward child” who also stutters, is teased cruelly and relentlessly by his siblings and others as he grows up. He gets his biggest pleasure from his grandparents’ “Sunday Social,” a regular family gathering where beloved grandpa, Mista Jethro, spins colorful stories using fanciful words like “hornswoggled or lollapalooza or lollygagging.”
As Devon grows, he learns the meaning of hard work when he becomes involved in the labor-intensive annual farm harvests. After a bitter fight with his gruff father, the still-gawky 17-year-old sets off to find a life where he finally feels he can fit in with others and be proud of himself.
Author Arthur Ferrell Wilson has a keen historian’s eye. The characters have depth and believability; the scenery and lifestyle details vividly illustrate a bygone era. Writing about a time before the advent of indoor plumbing, the author notes that water came from a handpump well, “hefted inside in a simple peck-sized bucket called a foot-tub.” The foot-tub was used for “measuring grain volume, picking vegetables, bathing a baby or giving a bedridden ward a sponge bath.”
Despite such compelling details, however, the book rolls along with virtually no conversations between characters, a necessary element to add spark and credibility to the story. More importantly, the novel lacks drive, offering no twists or “aha” moments that signal dramatic plot development. A further difficulty is that the story randomly drifts back and forth between Devon’s ages and years as it unfolds, making it hard to follow.
In all, while the author’s writing is enhanced with highly developed visual details, the novel’s fuzzy storyline is lacking. As such, the book will likely appeal primarily to those interested in revisiting post-Depression life in the rural deep South.
Also available as an ebook.