Running on Maybe

Jackson McGarry

Publisher: Ciao Brahma Group Pages: 536 Price: (paperback) $15.99 ISBN: 9781735891507 Reviewed: August, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Jackson McGarry’s novel Running on Maybe presents a convincing portrait of greed, graft, and the struggle for freedom in early 20th-century Mississippi.

In Peabodyville, Mississippi, Lillian Molyneaux spirals into alcoholism after the death of two of her children. Her rich husband Scanlan exploits his ownership of fertile delta land and the local bank hoping to make a fortune selling soybeans to the government upon entry into WWI. Rapacious railroad baron Levi Cutler goes along with Scanlan’s scheme while secretly hunting for his abused wife, Martha, who has escaped his beatings to find grace with Swan, Birdie, and others who live on the fringes of civilized society.

While Larness Pennybank builds an ambitious skyscraper and Dr. Friendly of Enchanted Pines sanatorium and the Molyneaux governess Elthena scheme to get their hands on Lillian and her unusual Yalobusha parrot Opelika, another family’s drama answers the question around the identity of the woman in tweed found floating in the river. And over all looms the grinding shadow of a relentless and useless war.

McGarry’s 1916 Mississippi is utterly believable, as is the avarice of the wealthy men. The author handles his enormous cast of characters well, with high tension and dramatic incidents spanning fire and flood. The style is highly reminiscent of Faulkner’s sprawling canvases and slightly fevered prose, but the language is oddly uneven, a startling image or breathless phrase juxtaposed with an overwrought sentence or obvious grammatical flaw.

The saga could be slightly less sprawling, as some of the same ground is frequently revisited, and the episodes of Lillian and Opelika succumbing to their addictions, as well as the evil of Dr. Friendly, occasionally skirt cliché if not caricature. The storyline of Opelika and her captive son, Looney, will appeal depending on the reader’s ability to identify with an intelligent bird.

While the story is lengthy and sometimes labored, its themes of redemption, enlightenment, and sacrifice lend coherence and ultimately grace to a gritty tale full of surprises.

Also available as an ebook.

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