A collection of memories and narrative vignettes that chronicles the vibrant people who populated rural Wheaton and Rocky Comfort, Missouri, between 1907 and 1960.
Lewis paints, in alternating broad and fine strokes, a picture of a small segment of the rural United States through difficult and prosperous eras. He has an eye for satisfying detail, and he thoroughly catalogs a colorful cast of characters (a bevy of endnotes that reference hundreds of local news articles, periodicals, and more). The author uses memoir and journalistic reporting to show how his personal history maps onto his neighbors’ in two towns where there were no true strangers. The titular jar flies are said to sound like “a bad bass fiddle player sawing a grating note,” a constant buzzing presence that nearly suggests itself as the rural drama’s Greek chorus. Some of the most rewarding sections of the book explain the inner workings of Wheaton and Rocky Comfort’s agrarian systems, including the processes of supply bartering and community support for the infirm or downtrodden. At one point, Lewis fondly remembers a man named Mack Harader who’d given him a ride in his truck as a boy, and who was supported in financial and moral ways by his neighbors after a paralyzing stroke left him nearly immobile. Plenty of action abounds in stories about a grizzled cowboy, a fighter pilot, and other archetypically unyielding and tough players. The sheer volume of people tends at times to dilute the book’s sense of singular storyline. Instead, this set of tales should be enjoyed with the same patience and deliberation that one might have when listening to the flowing oral histories of family members on a back porch. Like such stories, this collection is meandering at times but rich in visual detail and warm language. While not a strictly journalistic endeavor, this book will still provide readers with a comprehensive look at this rural region’s history.
A slow, sweet homage to two Midwestern towns.