A Review of James Still’s River of Earth

A Review of James Still’s River of Earth (New York: Viking Press, 1940) By Maureen Theobald In James Still’s dark novel of the coal mining community on Little Carr Mountain, the bleak existence of those who made their lives there was obvious. Although the Brackstone family managed to avoid living in the mining camp a good share of their lives, they were forced to eventually move there when life on their small acreage became too difficult. Mother tried her best to keep a garden for the family of six, but between moles, grasshoppers, hungry birds, and drought, it wasn’t easy. In order to keep Mother on the farm and out of the mining camp she detested, Father walked the two miles there and back as long as he could, until it took such a toll on him, they were forced to move into Blackjack camp. Although this story is one of hardship and poverty, the rich dialect of the Appalachian mountain folk makes the reading experience interesting and fun. Deciphering the conversations is somewhat of a challenge, but adds to the enjoyment of the novel. Eccentric characters come in and out of the family’s lives often providing entertainment, like Uncle Continue reading A Review of James Still’s River of Earth

Community-Based Education and Rural Literature

Community-Based Education and Rural Literature I’ve been asked many times if I would define “community-based education,” as it’s a phrase heard more and more these days, despite the fact that what it means is hardly self-evident. So I’m going to attempt a little essay/definition that deals with the topic and uses rural literature as an example. First, I think it’s important to note that there’s a long scholarly tradition related to the intersection of community, education, and, ultimately, democracy. For example, it’s not a coincidence that the world’s first documented experiments with democracy in Greece were simultaneous with the world’s first public schools. Likewise, the fall of democracy coincided with the end of public education and the onset of the “dark ages.” But there’s a missing piece in the democracy = education analysis, and that’s the role of community. Socrates, the famous Greek educator, serves as a good example to demonstrate the significance of the concept of community to the emerging democratic world view. As most will recall, he was found guilty of treason for encouraging critical thinking on the part of his students. What many are not aware of is the fact that he had ample opportunity to leave Continue reading Community-Based Education and Rural Literature

The Writings of Gene Stratton Porter

Although I’ve been a stranger to RLR for almost a year now, I’ve remained a devoted fan of Paul’s wonderful library. Each old novel I finish takes me to the next, and as sorry as I am for one to come to an end, I am equally as excited to begin another. Within the last year, I made a discovery that turned out to be quite a precious treasure . A good friend gave us a box of old books from her Dad’s basement. I didn’t expect to find the book that would lead me on the most cherished literary adventure of my life. An old copy of a novel by an unknown author caught my eye. The Harvester, by Gene Stratton Porter, sounded like a farm novel to me, so I opened it and read a few paragraphs. That was all it took. Two paragraphs turned into two pages. We were busy with outdoor spring chores, so I forced myself to put it back into the box, and told myself I’d try to remember it for road trip reading. After devouring nine of her books, researching her life, and sharing my new-found love of this woman with anyone who Continue reading The Writings of Gene Stratton Porter

Review of Unto a Good Land

Unto a Good Land, by Vilhelm Mobert Review by Mark Munger (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954) This second novel in the “Emigrant” series written by Swedish author, Carl Artur Vilhelm Moberg continues the story of a small band of Swedes who leave their native land for the United States in the early 1850s. Whereas the first novel in the series, The Emigrants, was entirely set either in rural Sweden or aboard the brig, the Charlotta that journeyed from Europe to North America with a cargo of pig iron and humanity aboard, Unto a Good Land is firmly set on the shores of the brash and newly constituted republic of the United States of America. Moberg does a yeoman’s job of depicting the overland journey of Karl Oskar Nilsson, his wife Kristina, their children, and the divergent band of immigrants that accompany them from Manhattan to Taylors Falls, Minnesota, an isolated lumbering town located on the wild and scenic St. Croix River. The timeframe, as I’ve said, is the 1850-1851. Wisconsin, on the eastern banks of the St. Croix, has attained statehood (1848). Minnesota, which occupies the eastern banks of the river, is part of the Minnesota Territory, created in Continue reading Review of Unto a Good Land

Review of The Passion Never Dies

This Passion Never Dies, by Sophus Keith Winther Review by John Henry (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938) The final act in the Grimson family trilogy, This Passion Never Dies, begins in the late spring of 1920 and ends in the late summer of 1923. Much like the previous novel in the series, there are two main plot threads of the story. One thread follows the aged and worn Peter and Meta Grimson as they struggle to hold on to the farm in Weeping Willow, Nebraska, which they now own. The second thread follows their third son, Hans, as he finishes college in Lincoln, searches for romantic love, and faces the trials of early adulthood. World War One had brought boom times to Nebraska farmers, and the Grimsons, caught up in the prosperity, had bought their farm at high-times prices. Falling crop prices after the war and throughout the time of the novel makes every successive year a struggle for Peter and Meta to hold out against bankruptcy. Their two oldest sons, Alfred and David, have both married and left the farm. Hans is away at university much of the time. Karl leaves for California and truck farming; Frank for Omaha Continue reading Review of The Passion Never Dies

Review of The Years of Peace

The Years of Peace, by LeRoy MacLeod Review by John Henry (New York: Century, 1932) (Warning: Tyler Peck is an advocate of the South during the Civil War. More significantly he on occasion uses highly offensive racial epitaphs. His remarks are mildly censored by other characters in the book. And it is clear that the author himself does not endorse Tyler’s racism.) The Years of Peace tells the story of two families who farm in the Wabash River region of western Indiana. The novel begins in the final weeks of the Civil War, just before Lincoln is assassinated, and ends ten years later on the last day of 1875. The first family, Lafayette and Mary Ferguson, had come to the Wabash valley in the 1830s. They were not pioneer settlers but arrived early enough to become the most prosperous farmers in the Sycamore Creek neighborhood. Lafayette had once been a senator in the Indiana legislature and at the start of the novel is the Justice of the Peace. He is known as “the squire,” not only because he is one of the oldest farmers of the area, but more significantly because he has acquired great land holdings, buying up the Continue reading Review of The Years of Peace

Review of The Old Ashbury Place

The Old Ashburn Place, by Margaret Flint Review by Maureen Theobald (New York: Dodd Mead, 1936) A small rural community in Maine is the backdrop for this moving novel. In it, Margaret Flint very capably chronicles the lives of the Ashburn family in the late 1800s. In a beautiful setting on the side of Pigeon Mountain, the hard working farm Ashburn family struggles with the common problems of agricultural life, particularly those associated with maintaining a small dairy operation. As is a common theme in many Midwest rural novels, the trials and tribulations of dealing with nature’s fickle moods is an issue the family deals with day in and day out. Although the severe extremes of hard Midwestern weather don’t exist in the more moderate climate of central Maine, farm families everywhere must deal with weather-related exigencies. Pa and Ma work hard and raise to raise five children, three boys and two girls. The two older boys work the farm with their father, while the family hopes the youngest boy will concentrate on his education; and indeed, he eventually becomes the only member of the Ashburn clan to attend and graduate from the state university. The two girls grow into Continue reading Review of The Old Ashbury Place

Review of The Long Tomorrow

The Long Tomorrow, by Evelyn Voss Wise Review by John Henry (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938)  The Long Tomorrow tells the story of Father Pierre, an immigrant Roman Catholic priest, who comes to a farming hamlet in an isolated part of rural northwestern Minnesota. The locale is so small that it is never given a name, just called “The Corners.” He arrives in the early summer of 1881 to build a church, a house, and ultimately a community. The story follows his work and life within the growing and eventually prospering village until his death in 1929. Father Pierre has an unusual perspective on his work as a priest. Pierre believes that he must help all the people, not just the Catholics of his parish, develop “materially” as well as “spiritually.” And so the story focuses almost exclusively on his efforts on building the physical, economic, and social resources for the people of The Corners. We see him helping with the repair of dilapidated farmhouses. He acts as community veterinarian and doctor. He is the first schoolteacher. He gives career and life guidance to the young people of the hamlet. He is a social worker when “Kelly the bad” drinks Continue reading Review of The Long Tomorrow

Review of The Long Lane

The Long Lane, by Phil Stong Review by Maureen Theobald (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1939) The Long Lane by Phil Stong is a rich and fascinating novel that took me by surprise. Dramatic events that led to a deeply layered story of family, betrayal, loyalty, acceptance, and survival made for a wonderfully enjoyable read. As a family falls apart, a new one is born, and as family members become disillusioned and overwhelmed, they learn that the cliché, “time heals all wounds,” is accurate. Young Kenneth Brubaker’s life is shaken to its core when his mother leaves him and his father to live with his uncle Merritt, her true love. He and his Dad must learn how to deal with her abandonment, while trying to remain stoic and save face. The shock and embarrassment proves to be too difficult for Ken’s father, Albert, and he decides to leave the “fish bowl” that is their small town in Iowa. He moves to Des Moines, where he has started a small business with a friend. Here, he slowly heals, while building his business, although struggling with the difficult decision to leave Kenneth behind on the farm with the hired hand and Continue reading Review of The Long Lane