WEEDY ROUGH by Douglas C. Jones
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In Winding Stair (1979), young 1890s-Oklahoma lawyer Eben Pay fell in love with a Cherokee woman involved in that novel's courtroom drama. But now it's nearly 30 years later, and the focus is chiefly on Eben's half-Cherokee son Barton and on Barton's small son Duny Gene--who arrive, along with Barton's hoity-toity wife Lydia, in the south Ozarks town of Weedy Rough just after the Great War. Right-minded, gentle Barton, a timber-buyer for the railroad, soon becomes a leading citizen, a part-time letter-carrier and preacher--though his good works always seem to go wrong in the end. Lydia becomes a prime mover in the Ladies' Aid Society--though she stews in the shame of Barton's (and Duny Gene's) Indian blood. But little Duny Gene, though raised right and even lovingly, grows up just a little bad through the Twenties: he does exactly as much mischief as he knows he can get away with; he throws rocks at the goats kept by tetchy neighbor Parkins Muller (who, with sister Veda, owns the bank and half the town); and he hangs out with Hoadie Renkin, a hillbilly ""sticks"" kid who's always up to no good. So the low-key yet substantial suspense here--heightened by a prologue referring to a 1933 Weedy Rough bank robbery--is: how will Duny Gene, an essentially decent kid, turn out? And the omens seem to be stacking up against Duny Gene when his beloved dog dies (he's sure it was poisoned by Parkins Muller); when his first true love marries somebody else; and when he sees his father's gentle ways being taken advantage of. Worst of all, however, Hoadie--who left town to get rich quick somewhere--reappears in Weedy Rough one 1933 day in the company of a cut-rate Bonnie (Ruby) and Clyde (Lester). Will Duny Gene, now working at his father's lumber-yard, fall in with this sleazy gang? Well, though we do see Duny Gene getting drunk and near-seduced, Jones then slyly jumps to the robbery itself: banker Parkins Muller kills robber Hoadie, then himself gets shot--and Duny Gene is identified (by both Muller's sister and by confessed robber Ruby) as the accomplice who shot Muller dead. The last part of the novel, then, is a courtroom drama--with old Eben Pay coming in from out-of-town to defend his grandson; and while Eben brilliantly coaxes out a not-guilty verdict, guilt will hang over the whole family ever after. . . . Jones hasn't found precisely the right balance for his mix of genres this time--Duny Gene's coming-of-age, Barton's disillusionment, the socio-historical crime, the courtroom suspense--and readers may be only half-involved till Eben Pay arrives on the scene. But, as always, the storytelling is sure and steady; the rough period atmosphere is engaging without being folksy; and if this doesn't grip the attention in quite the way that Jones' more historical books did, it lingers in the mind with equal grit and vividness.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston