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Stormy Weather: A Novel by [Paulette Jiles]

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Stormy Weather: A Novel Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 240 ratings

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From Booklist

In her second novel, following the acclaimed Enemy Women (2002), Jiles proves herself an exceptional writer. This stirring story of four women--Elizabeth Stoddard and her three daughters, Mayme, Jeanine, and Bea--struggling to survive during the Depression is set against a barren Texas landscape, still suffering the effects of a long drought and devastating dust storms. The Stoddards, having followed their charming patriarch, Jack, from one oil field to another, must now cope with his death from a gas leak. His love of gambling and liquor has left them destitute; they return to their long-abandoned family farm, where they face a hefty bill for back taxes. Jack's one legacy is an underfed racehorse named Smoky Joe. Jeanine, smart and practical, is forced to sell the horse to cover their debts but takes a percentage of his winnings; meanwhile, her mom invests in a wildcat oil well. The lack of money, though, never detracts from the Stoddards' dignity. Jiles conveys their sense of self and of home in language as spare and stark as the Texas landscape. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

From The Washington Post

Reviewed by Ron Charles

Paulette Jiles's previous book, the enthralling Enemy Women, described a Missouri family caught between Northern and Southern militias during the Civil War. Her new historical novel shows the same interest in the way ordinary people, particularly young women, have coped with national trauma, but not all national traumas deliver the same dramatic energy. This time around, her resilient young women are caught in the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that hit Texas in the 1930s. The stagnation that made that ordeal so devastating -- no work, no rain, no nothing -- makes this a challenging background for drama. Compared to the infinite horrors of Civil War battles, there are only so many ways to describe another dry day on a dead farm. Steinbeck knew the secret: Keep those Joads moving.

Unfortunately, all the movement in Stormy Weather is up front, and the novel peaks early. In the opening section, young Jeanine Stoddard trails after her father, Jack, with a mixture of adulation and alarm. "He had always been a shape changer who could talk the legs off an iron stove," Jiles writes. He has a good job, delivering pipe to the oil wells erupting all over Texas, but the work keeps him on the road and denies his family any stability. "Her father made up his mind to move the way birds made up their minds in midflight, wild, startling shifts that sent them spinning away through vagrant airs to yet another oil field." To reassure his wife that he's not drinking or gambling or carrying on with other women, he takes little Jeanine with him while he drinks and gambles and carries on with other women. It's a dangerous position to put her in, of course, and cruel, too, considering the way her sisters blame her for lying to protect him.

Once he's out of the picture, Jack's family is a whole lot better off, but a deadly stability settles over the story. No more wild nights, no more geysers exploding out of the earth, no more covering up for a charming drunk who'll promise anything. Jeanine, her sisters and her mother return to their decrepit family farm in central Texas and set about the arduous task of rehabbing the house and reclaiming the fields. Concerned neighbors warn, "Y'all are going to starve out here," but these young women "piece their lives together the way people draw maps of remembered places; they get things wrong and out of proportion, they erase and redraw again."

Stormy Weather is a big-hearted, life-affirming novel, but it's a little sweet, a little earnest, a "Little House on the Prairie." Yes, the Stoddard women face challenges, but only to surmount them at the last minute. How will they ever pay those back taxes on the farm? Don't worry, Mom tells her daughters -- and us. "They're not going to throw a widow woman and three daughters off their land because of back taxes." Phew, that's good to know. Mrs. Stoddard keeps investing their hard-earned money in an old oil well that everybody tells her is dry, but in fact it's such a sure thing that I was itching to sink a few grand in there myself. And then there's the novel's great crisis: Jeanine's little sister falls down a well, and their cat calls for help. (What's that, Lassie? You want me to contact your lawyer?)

These weaknesses are disappointing considering Jiles's obvious skills. For more than 30 years, she's been a successful poet, and her descriptions here of oil drilling, horse racing and terrifying dust storms crackle with excitement. She's also a master at creating the most charming romance -- a tender love affair between Jeanine and a young widower who must convince her that it's time to think about life outside her family.

But again and again these wonderful moments are retarded by a lack of tension or diluted by sentimentality. "Times were hard," Jiles writes, "very hard, and once in a while people liked to hear stories with happy endings." That's true, of course, but we don't want to see rainbows during stormy weather. No matter how unabashedly hopeful we may be, we've got to believe along the way that those happy endings are seriously at risk.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000QUCOBC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (13 October 2009)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 691 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 354 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 240 ratings

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