An impeccably researched debut novel that chronicles a West Texas family’s struggle through the Great Depression.
In 1921, high-spirited, impetuous teenager “Skitchy” Chapman lives with her parents, Ephraim and Kate; her brother, Buddy; and her sister, Belle, on the family’s ranch in Reeves County, Texas. But once Skitchy starts attending barn dances with her older brother and sister, she grows up quickly. She soon falls for an outsider named Pink Campbell, a trumpet player in the barn-dance band, who came to Reeves County to try his hand at farming cotton. Skitchy’s parents initially disapprove of the match, but Pink’s support through a crisis gains her family’s respect, and the two marry; Belle marries a local man, Jackson Tieger. Skitchy farms cotton with Pink, and Belle and Jackson move to a neighboring town, where Jackson has inherited a run-down hotel. Entrepreneurial, enthusiastic Skitchy hates the isolation of the farm; she struggles to understand Pink’s lack of ambition and wonders about the future of their marriage. When the owners of the Campbells’ cotton farm sell the land, Belle and Jackson invite Skitchy and Pink to move into their hotel and help run it. The two couples weather the Great Depression in the hotel, living through childbirths, marital difficulties, business ventures, racial conflict and dust storms together. All four are changed by the passage of time—and one of the marriages doesn’t survive. McDonald depicts the lonely, arid West Texas landscape with an evocative, spare touch; her obvious talent makes the overly florid depictions of sex more glaring. McDonald devotes each chapter to a single year and covers the period between 1921 and 1943; this narrative choice helps move the story along, but it sometimes feels forced—particularly in the first half, when many chapters consist of only a few scenes. McDonald’s story, and her realistic, nuanced characters, would likely have been better served by jettisoning the emphasis on chronology and developing fewer, more fleshed-out chapters.
Striking, if uneven, historical fiction that chronicles a difficult period in American history.