Fitzjerrell’s (The Dividing Season, 2012) engaging tale depicts a Texas town during the Great Depression.
Mike Lemay was recently hired by the Federal Writers Project to interview and write about the people suffering in this hard time. He himself feels guilty for leaving his surviving family in North Carolina, but he needs whatever work he can get so he can send money home. He winds up in Cooperville, Texas, and immediately confronts the mysterious disappearance of the town eccentric and loner, Effie Beck. After renting quarters with the Travises—widowed Cora Mae and daughter Jodean—Mike is quickly drawn in. Cora Mae, with her chronic headaches, is a classic manipulator, and everyone seems to see Jodean as a good daughter but damaged goods. Why? And does that somehow involve Effie Beck? Such questions form the backbone of the novel as Mike and Jodean fall in love slowly, warily, predictably. Groups and minor characters pop in throughout the story. Though the town is suspicious of any outsiders, a crew from the Works Progress Administration is building a bridge over the Medina River—a bridge that, at book’s climax, might be washed away. The menacing sheriff and his beautiful wife (aka the richest couple in town) contribute a subplot, and the historically factual “orphan train” plays a major role. The story is as much about Mike’s coming to terms with himself and his disgust at the Depression and his situation as it is about his solving the mystery of Effie Beck. Fitzjerrell packs a lot in, and her pacing is impressive. Characters are real and detailed, and the town feels like a real place, not a stage. Small wonder that the book already won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion.
Stellar fiction about hard living during the Depression.