Posts Tagged ‘Paulette Jiles’

‘Stormy Weather’ by Paulette Jiles – Texas Dust, Rain, and Oil During the Great Depression

 

‘Stormy Weather’ by Paulette Jiles (2007) – 342 pages

I was quite impressed with Paulette Jiles’ latest novel ‘News of the World’, and that novel made my Best of 2017 list. That Western story is told in a dignified and stately fashion in simple and straightforward prose. So I decided to listen to another novel from Jiles’ back catalog, ‘Stormy Weather’, on audio book. ‘News of the World’ was strong enough to revive my interest in the author’s back catalog as sometimes happens.

Not every novel is made for listening. If a novel contains complex sentences or a difficult plot, it becomes tricky to capture the full effect of the book even with repeated listening. I do read most novels the old-fashioned way (even in physical book form rather than Kindle). However I do occasionally want an audio book (while I’m walking our dog, Bailey) so I am careful to choose only novels for listening that I think will suit the medium. I find these clear and elegant Western novels by Paulette Jiles perfect for audio listening.

‘Stormy Weather’ takes place in Texas oil country during the Great Depression. It is a family story of the Stoddards. The heavy-drinking and gambling father Jack Stoddard dies early on under questionable circumstances, and the mother and three daughters are left to fend for themselves. The only thing their father left them was a race horse named Smokey Joe and a bad reputation. They move back to their mother’s family farm. Much of the story centers around the middle daughter Jeanine who starts out as a scrappy six year old in 1924 and by the end of the novel is twenty-one. As she comes of age, she meets a couple of guys on separate occasions who are quite different from each other, and we get the scenes of her romantic and not-so-romantic encounters as she grows up.

Along the way we get credible stories both happy and sad about what happens to a family through time, And of course there are scenes of the horse Smokey Joe in rural horse races.

‘Stormy Weather’ has the same qualities that drew me to ‘News of the World’. It is a steady family portrait of life during hard times, a story that works just as well for teenagers as it does for adults. It is not the most original story in style or substance, but it is perfect for audio listening.

 

Grade :    A

 

‘News of the World’ by Paulette Jiles – Predictable or Inevitable?

‘News of the World’ by Paulette Jiles    (2016) – 209 pages

newsoftheworld

‘News of the World’ is a simple tale that takes place in 1870, five years after the Civil War.  Captain Kidd who is in his early seventies makes a living travelling around Texas reading the current news of the world to groups of men and women in places that don’t have newspapers.  At one stop he encounters a ten year-old girl Johanna who had been kidnapped by a tribe of Kiowa Indians four years ago.  The Indians had killed the rest of her family, and she has been living with the tribe and has adopted many of their ways.  She now has been rescued, and the Captain is asked to take her along down to San Antonio so she can live with her only known living relatives, an aunt and uncle.

The story is told in dignified and stately fashion, and it reminded me of the classic cowboy movies of the 1940s and 1950s like ‘Red River’, ‘High Noon’, ‘Stagecoach’, and ‘The Searchers’.  It also brought me back to the TV westerns of the early 1960s.  We all knew the good guys were going to win by the time the TV show ended, because they would be back next week same as always.   It was all quite predictable but we didn’t care; we watched them anyway.  We took comfort in the inevitability of the conclusion.  This was manifest destiny.

The girl Johanna is used to Kiowa Indian ways and starts out wild and unfriendly and doesn’t talk, but gradually after a gunfight with some bad guys and other mishaps on the open road she slowly learns to trust the Captain, and the Captain learns to trust her.  This plot is one of the oldest and one I have run across repeatedly starting with ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, but it is still affecting when done well as it is here.

The author Paulette Jiles is also a poet, and it shows in the precision and simplicity of her language.  Unlike some other works of fiction by poets that I have read, her characters are down to earth and well-grounded in day-to-day prosaic reality.   I had no problem empathizing with her characters.

I do believe this is a fine novel for full grown adults, but I would especially recommend ‘News of the World’ to high school students or those who don’t read a lot of novels.  Its simple understated charms should win over a lot of readers.

Some of us more heavy-duty readers may believe we have encountered this novel somewhere else before.

 

Grade:    A-

 

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