Thorpe (Bellamy’s Ball, 2015, etc.) offers a historical novel about the O’Shaughnessys of rural Wisconsin.
In 1913, Grandpa Duffy, a stiff-necked old man, dies, but he doesn’t bequeath his dairy farm to Will O’Shaughnessy, his eldest grandson, as expected. Will’s brother, Frank, who’s just as heartless as Grandpa was, gets it instead. Jesse, the youngest of the three O’Shaughnessy brothers, is a hopeless alcoholic, who will eventually come back from World War I grotesquely disfigured. Will still longs be a farmer, having gone to University of Wisconsin and absorbed modern agricultural ideas. He wins the heart of the lovely, smart Mary Tregonning and winds up owning a Ford dealership in Ashley Springs. Prosperity follows, and soon they can afford to buy the finest house in town, where they eventually raise four children. Readers follow these O’Shaughnessys through World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918—which takes Michael, their firstborn—Prohibition (Will is a moderate drinker, Mary a scolding teetotaler), and the Roaring ’20s, when everyone, even Mary, gets stock market fever. Will is a cautious investor; others, such as his father, are suckered by con men or their own greed. Will soon faces a hard decision as his once-prospering dealership suffers direly. Any novel that starts out with hogs eating Grandpa is sure to grab readers’ attention. But Thorpe doesn’t disappoint as the story goes on; he’s a native of the Badger State himself, and he clearly knows it and its people well. It shows in his novel, which features well-developed characters that ring true. One running, character-based gag, for example, is that Will, a successful Ford dealer, still prefers to ride around in his horse and buggy. As a result, readers will grow to love Will and Mary and the girls, and cheer as they arrive at the farm that Will has wanted for so long.
An engaging first installment in a family saga that will have readers eagerly awaiting the next three.