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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

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    Add a little Lone Star charm to “”The Grapes of Wrath”” and there you have the basics of “”Stormy Weather,”” the new novel by Paulette Jiles.

    A family of four women is caught in the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that hit Texas in the 1930s, and while they do not take to the road to escape the hardship of the plains, their trials are very similar to those faced by John Steinbeck’s characters.

    The Stoddard family – Elizabeth, Jack and their three daughters, Bea, Mayme and Jeanine – have enough problems before the drought even hits them. The three girls fight over their father, a drunk who favors Jeanine and relies on her to cover up for his drinking, gambling and womanizing.

    Though Jeanine is asked to lie for him, she takes this as a flattering role and through it forms a close relationship with her otherwise disagreeable father. These family struggles blow up their own storm of trouble, which is almost resolved by the Depression when it takes Jack out of the picture.

    The women band together and rebuild their old farmhouse; in doing so, the tensions between the women as sisters and daughters are explored. They worry about money because there is much to pay back in taxes, and the mother invests all of their assets in a supposedly dried-up oil well. Luck seems to shine on these women, and by the end of the book this Stoddard good fortune is almost wearying.

    “”Stormy Weather””
    Paulette Jiles – William Morrow
    4 stars
    $24.95

    Jiles writes, “”Times were hard, very hard, and once in a while people liked to hear stories with happy endings.”” This happy ending, though, leaves the reader almost hoping for a little tragedy so that the luck might be rather more believable.

    “”Stormy Weather”” is one of those life-affirming novels, like a picture of a fluffy kitten or a Barry White record, that pet the sentimental spot in the brain. Though such sweetness is slightly disappointing from a writer who can so effectively drill up images of Texas, from the dust storms to the longhorns, the novel is enjoyable both as a diversion from life and as a crafted piece of language.

    Just keep a lemon on hand to suck on during the rather overdone cat-to-the-rescue scene.

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