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Radio Readers BookByte: Love Those Stoddard Women

Dorthea Lange, Farm Security Administration
Library of Congress

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo and author of the award-winning novel, Pennies from Burger Heaven.

I’ve loved stories my whole life, so I’m thrilled to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club. I couldn’t wait to get started on Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles.

She’s the New York Times Bestselling author of Enemy Women. This was the first novel I’ve read of hers and the woman can definitely write.

Plus, being born and raised in Amarillo, I was looking forward to a good Dust Bowl story, but I’ll be honest … I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first 50 pages. Now, I’m an author myself. I write intense and sometimes dark fiction, but Stormy Weather was just so bleak. I knew going into it that this was a Depression-era story, but man …

Then, finally … finally (!), when the first big plot point came in the book (hint … it’s what happened to the dad, Jack Stoddard) that’s when I was able to settle into the novel and start caring about the Stoddard women.

So often, books, movies and TV shows just have women sit there and look pretty or play the backdrop for all the men in the stories. That’s not the case in Story Weather. These are strong women. Resourceful women. Elizabeth Stoddard (the shrinking violet) and her four daughters: beautiful Mayme, tomboy Jeannine and bookish Bea. They’re all are braver than they think, and all are tested multiple times over. Everyone comes into their own power in different ways by the end of the book.

I also enjoyed following the Stoddard family over the years. They say episodic novels are dead, or at least, that’s what I’ve heard so many literary agents say at writing conferences over the years, but they’re wrong. Our lives don’t happen in a matter of months. Our lives happen over the span of decades, between choices and consequences. Happiness and heartache. That’s where the truth lies.

The author did a great job of capturing the bleakness of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Throughout the book, I felt hungry, I was tired … I sensed the desperation of everyone in my bones. She did a good job of conveying wild-catting oil, ranching life and particularly, horse racing. These are all subjects folks from the High Plains listening area can understand or are at least familiar.

Back to characters – I also liked the minor ones like the stuttering reporter, Milton Brown who had great lines, such as when he’d had a little too much to drink at the charity dance and tells Jeanine, “H-he-help me. Repair my ragged coat, feed me, listen to me, clean my glasses, c-c-carry me home in wheelbarrow.”

Some reviews online thought that the minor characters like Milton took up too much ink and page space, but I disagree one hundred percent. I thought he gave some much-needed comic relief to a difficult time period.

We all know people like Mrs. Joplin, the local busybody who runs the town’s general store. She’s the kind of woman who probably marked her calendar at the announcement of every wedding engagement, then counted the months after for the birth of the first child to see how appropriate the couple was. Her tongue would always be wagging.

Tomboy Jeannine is the main viewpoint of the novel and she’s solid. Smart, flawed and easy to connect to. She made the read worthwhile.

In a nutshell, Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles was slow-going at first for me, but once I got into it, I enjoyed myself. I was sad when the book was over, which is always, always a good sign.

So, those are my thoughts. This is Marcy McKay from Amarillo, local author and radio reader for High Plains Public Radio Book Club. For more information, go to www.HPPR.org