Wayne Hughes’ McTague, is an engaging novel about a family of custom summer harvesters and their crew as they collect the wheat from farmers’ fields over several days one summer.
Scotty McTague (also spelled McTeague) moved from Fort Worth back to small-town Texas with his wife and children three years ago to take over his father Jerry’s harvesting business. But there are problems from the beginning: Jerry goes behind Scotty’s back to ensure that Hatch, 74, works on the crew. Jerry feels obligated through family ties and Hatch’s sad history to help him out, while Scotty worries that he’s a troublemaker. In addition to this stress, Scotty deals with expensive maintenance, clients who can’t pay their bills, and other complications.
Scotty and Jerry are constantly arguing—or are on the verge of arguing. Scotty is resentful at having had to disrupt his family to care for his elderly father as well as the business, while Jerry continues to make business decisions without consulting Scotty. Ultimately, Scotty must decide whether to continue working the ailing business or try for something better.
Meanwhile, even minor characters have their own struggles. Al, Scotty’s client, cares for his wife, whose erratic behavior from senility puts his own health in danger. New crew member Robert, nicknamed “Punkin,” has a father in jail, an aunt fighting cancer, and difficulty reading.
Readers unfamiliar with this world will appreciate the foreword, where Hughes describes what custom harvesters do and the machinery they use. Preferably, the information would have been seamlessly woven into the story, but it allows the author to focus on the characters and their complicated relationships, which propel the narrative.
The plot unfolds naturally, with plausible yet unexpected complications, although the final incident feels overly dramatic compared to the rest of the story. The novel uses dialogue well, relaying necessary information and keeping the suspense high.
Readers looking for a well-told story with flawed, intriguing characters should enjoy McTague.