THE LOST SISTER by Robert Love Taylor


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Taylor's third book, a bleak novel set in Oklahoma during the Twenties and Thirties, not only suggests that life could be nasty, brutal, and short back then, but that this was particularly true for those who hoped for something better. Marshall Monroe, born in Arkansas, more or less settles in Oklahoma City with notions of improving his family's lives, despite the poverty that threatens to engulf them. His passion reveals itself early in this death-shrouded work when, over his wife's protests, he carries his dead baby back to Arkansas for burial near the boy's granddaddy. His devout wife also can't prevent him from opening an ill-fated diner out in a grubby oil-boom town. Herself a God-fearing woman of simple ways and hard-earned wisdom, Jane Monroe exerts even less control over her daughters. While Marshall scratches out a living, his two oldest girls--Johnnie and Cora Mae--similarly refuse to resign themselves to utterly drab, hardscrabble lives. Johnnie's brief venture into romance lasts until the next morning, when her unconsummated marriage to fumbling Doyle Briggs is annulled. She soon agrees with her mother that "men are a caution," and the apparent source of most grief. Cora Mae, more like her father, takes her infatuations further and elopes with Don Temple--a mysterious whiskey-runner, considered a wastrel and profligate by his father, and something of a Huck Finn. Having "lit out" from Missouri, this small-time criminal spends most of his time on the road and eventually abandons Cora and her baby girl. Wasting little time and determined to remarry with a proper wedding, Cora hooks another husband before she dies from the sickness she knows is within her. The kicker to these tales of marital woe is that both girls are mere teens when they marry, and their spouses are just as wet behind the ears. All these emotional tribulations, in other words, are endured by ill-educated children who suffer for their inarticulate fears and desires. Taylor's rather depressing point--that only the strong survive--here fails to transcend the extreme conditions of a particular time and place--although the historical re-creation of that time and place is expert and fine.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1989
ISBN: 945575-10-6
Publisher: Algonquin
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