Set in Dust Bowl Oklahoma in the early 1930s, this is the harrowing story of a farm family struggling to survive a seemingly endless drought and the privations it brings.
Drawing her title from a verse in Deuteronomy, author Meadows (Mercy Train, 2012) focuses on the Bell family, Annie and Samuel, who have migrated from Kansas in search of a better life, and their children Birdie and Fred. The book begins slowly, as the author introduces her resolute characters, who are trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life, and describes, in vivid detail, the parched, unforgiving landscape where dust storms destroy fields and crops. Then the pace picks up: Birdie, a headstrong 15-year-old, has been carrying on with Cy, the son of a local farmer; now Annie, a devoted farm wife who hasn’t completely lost her youthful spark, is tempted by the advances of the slick town mayor. Dreamy 8-year-old Fred, who doesn’t speak, communicating via a small chalkboard he carries with him, develops a lung ailment, and the God-fearing Samuel, perhaps the most overwhelmed member of the family, starts building a boat—convinced, somehow, that flooding rains are on the way and he will need to shelter his family with his own version of Noah’s Ark. The writing is richly evocative throughout, precise in its depiction of the harsh natural world and tender in its renderings of the complicated emotional lives of the main characters. The author has an abundance of feeling for the Bells, and the reader comes to care deeply about them as they deal with unimaginable loss.
There’s a relentless quality to the novel, and it can almost seem too grim, especially at the end. But there are saving graces in the form of powerful writing and memorable characters who are hard to shake off even after you’ve read the last page.