A young man sets out on a quest for wealth and recognition in this promising novel by Mooney.
Junior Peck was born into neither luck nor money. Growing up in Enid, Oklahoma, the son of a drunken construction worker, Junior’s life changes when a deadly tornado hits town. The storm topples a wall in the new gymnasium, killing two girls. Junior’s father, Leland, is held accountable and jailed for substandard workmanship. Junior’s mother, Daisy, struggles to cope with the shame. She sends her son off to Weldon Christian Camp, hoping to show him a bigger, better life. Surrounded by privileged kids of successful businessmen, Junior is immediately out of place. They sneer at his clothes and haircut and shun him at the Saturday night dance. He leaves the camp, resentment festering, and swears that he will become rich in order to command respect. Returning home to find his mother in an asylum, he heads to the one place he can realize his dream: Texas during the oil boom. Hanging out in rowdy wildcatter bars, he learns every intricate scam. He becomes an ace con man and inveigles his way into the heart of Priss, the daughter of a rich lumberyard owner, to whom he proposes. Using the most despicable of methods, he amasses wealth and property, but will his machinations be exposed? The novel charts other aspects of the oil boom, most significantly, the construction of the Grand Petroleum Shannon Hotel on Galveston Bay. On occasion, this feels like an unnecessary digression, bringing in a glut of characters that the author doesn’t fully develop. The actor Howard Hughes drops in and out of the plot, as does Mary Martin, adding little value. The narrative is, nevertheless, highly devourable, its key ingredient being a liberal sprinkling of dry Texan humor: “Although Bobby was rather good-looking...the girls realized he was about as useless as tits on a bull.”
Not quite a Texas gusher but offers a steady stream of entertainment and intrigue.