Monday, December 27, 2010
Review of Geese to a Poor Market by L. D. Whitaker
Recently I finished reading Geese to a Poor Market, written by L. D. Whitaker and published by High Hill Press. The book's setting is in the Missouri Ozarks in the 1950s. Its title comes from an Ozarks expression that means selling yourself or your goods for less than they are worth.
Whitaker's novel is rich with the sights, sounds, sayings, and characters of the Missouri Ozarks. Told from multiple points of view, the story centers on the lives of Rita Sanders and her son Wesley.
At the beginning of the story, Rita leaves her semi-truck-driving-hard-drinking-cheating husband Ray and takes their seven-year-old son Wesley back to her parents' home in rural Missouri. Life isn't easy for Rita or Wesley, but Rita's parents tighten their belts and do their best to welcome them home.
Rita's father Will O'Dell is strong and proud, but also has a gentle streak, especially when it comes to his grandson. Although Will's left arm has been amputated above the wrist, he manages to make a living by farming.
Rita's mother Beulah is prudish and judgmental. She disapproves of Rita's leaving her husband, even though he was the one who was cheating, but she loves her grandson and wants what she thinks is best for him. Beulah is insensed when Rita gets a job working for retired Navy vet Sam Rockford at a local honky-tonk to help pay for their share of the family expenses. Beulah tells Rita her actions are like, "driving geese to a poor market."
Things get dicey after Rita moves in with Sam, and Ray shows up to reclaim his son.
In the tradition of Ozark storytellers, Whitaker knows how to spin a good yarn. His book is peopled with characters who leap off the pages, including moonshiners, lame-brained criminals, fire-and-brimstone revival preachers, the goodly, and the goodless. Whitaker's background as an attorney shows in the parts of the book that deal with the intracacies and nuances of Missouri law.
His descriptions of life in the Missouri Ozarks are vivid and specific. It's hard to find fault with Whitaker's debut novel. My only criticism--and it's a minor one--is that at times the detailed descriptions and lengthy dialogue interrupt the flow of the story.
On balance, Geese to a Poor Market is a thoughtful and an entertaining tale that captures the essence of the struggles, loves, and lives of a family living in the Ozarks in the mid-1950s.
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