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Review of "When the Bough Breaks"
The beginning of a southern race relation epic
"When the Bough Breaks" is a period story taking place directly before and during WWI and follows life in a small town in the deep south. It tackles the difficult social experiences of the time including race relations and prohibition, yet also hits on some of the more personal interactions including marriage, infidelity, and widowhood that are universal still today. This story seeks to take on all of these complexities and weave them together in a delicate tapestry that is this book.
Can 1912 really be that similar to present times?
The telling of this story is quite unusual, having the narrator as a newspaper editor who has omnipresent visibility into everything going on in the town and while present always in the background is never one to interact with the action that is taking place all around him. It is an interesting way of telling a story as it allows for a first person narration yet still allows for the ability to see into every private parlor in the town. A creative way to tell a story (awarding the narrator a Pulitzer prize was probably quite fun fringe benefit), yet a very effective one.
The story focuses exclusively in a small town in Satilla County, Georgia where life still moves at a slower pace. Where agriculture is still the primary occupation and a single car driving down the street is considered high traffic. This is a time and place where neighbors know everyone in the town and are not above gossiping on who was spending time with others late at night. This was seemingly a simpler time, and yet with race relations heating up, with pestilence and other challenges to agriculture easy would not describe the time period. This is a story of overcoming obstacles and persevering when everything else tells you to give up. How this fight between big money (the bank) and the everyday man (the farmer) has its beginnings long before the occupy Wall Street movement we see today. I find it quite remarkable how we see many of the same tensions almost a century ago still appearing in our daily newspapers. Perhaps reading stories such as this allow us to see and appreciate the challenges of those who live off the land and whose lives are very much impacted by all the climate changes many of us just hear about on the news.
Oscar brings up race relations but it is so much more than just the relationship between black and whites. We are presented with the birth of the Klu Klux Klan just as it started to get state sanctioned footholds in society. These are times that we might have read about in history books, but harder to imagine true impacts. It is reminiscent of "The Help" providing a window into a different time, a different place and the emotional impact of what is sometimes presented as cold facts and figures. These were real events that had tremendous impacts on families and societies. Not an easy subject to broach, but one that we could all take to heart as hate crimes are still a part of our society.
Overall thoughts on this story
Overall the writing of this book is quite good and will lead the author through this story on quite an easy journey. For those looking for a level of complexity normally seen in true epic novels such as those from Ken Follett or James Clavell, this story is a little too brief to get into full complexities. This is the downside of smaller more manageable novel, it must sacrifice a deeper background and depth to all the characters to stay under 1000 pages. Thus this story provided a thinner view of a large set of characters leaving this reader eagerly looking for more on individual plot lines and characters.
However, those that hate when an author leaves questions unanswered or loose ends will be pleased to know that in this case Oscar ties up every loose end and ensures there are no questions at the end of the novel. While not every storyline ends happily (when in life does everything end happily), there is closure to each and every character and conflict. You will finish this story without thinking about a sequel, content in knowing how the characters you have bonded with over a few hundred pages have found closure in their lives.
"When the Bough Breaks" is a simpler story that attempts to trace a complex time in short order. It is worth a read from those that enjoy period pieces or just enjoy a fun novel.
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Interview with Oscar Patton
Did any of this story come from experiences either you have had or your family had? Clearly a period piece but you showed quite a bit of expertise around farming so curious what experiences you might have had?
[OP] YES, THESE ARE FAMILY EXPERIENCES. I GREW UP ON A SMALL FARM HERE IN COFFEE COUNTY. WE HAD HOGS AND CATTLE AND GREW TOBACCO, COTTON, PEANUTS, AND CORN. MY CHARACTER WOODROW GASKIN IS MUCH LIKE MY FATHER, THE GOOD MAN RELUCTANT TO TAKE SIDES BUT CHOOSING RIGHT WHEN FORCED, GENEROUS TO A FAULT, EAGER TO HELP OUT A NEIGHBOR. I HAVE WRITTEN THREE SATILLA COUNTY (COFFEE COUNTY) NOVELS AND ALL DRAW ON SIXTY-NINE YEARS OF LIVING IN THIS FASCINATING, PERPLEXING PLACE. THE NEXT NOVEL IN THE TRILOGY IS BASED LOOSELY ON THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF MY GREAT GRANDFATHER BOY MAN CARVER, LAND BARON AND COUNTRY LOTHARIA WHO FLOURISHED IN THE OLD HERDING CULTURE OF SOUTH GEOGIA. BOUGH IS BASED, LOOSELY, ON THE STORY OF THE ASHLEY-SLATER HOUSE IN DOUGLAS. WIDELY CONSIDERED TO BE HAUNTED, IT HAS BEEN RESTORED AND NOW HOUSES OUR CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. A NUMBER OF WEB SITES TOUCH ON ITS HISTORY. CHRIS TROWELL, LOCAL HISTORIAN, RETIRED COLLEGE PROFESSOR,HELPED ME WITH RESEARCH AND GIVES THE BOOK A "WELL DONE!"
Why did you want to focus on race relations in this book? Again personal experiences you might have had?
[OP] I DID NOT WANT TO GET INTO RACE RELATIONS, DID NOT WANT TO PERPETUATE STEREOTYPES ABOUT THE SOUTH, BUT DURING THE SIX YEARS I WORKED ON THE BOOK, I LEARNED I COULD NOT WRITE A 'TRUE' BOOK AND AVOID THE RACIAL TENSION. FOR EXAMPLE, I READ WARD'S HISORY OF COFFEE COUNTY AND FOUND A REPRODUCTION OF THE KLAN CHARTER AND LEARNED THAT GEORGIA OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED THE KLAN, WHICH CLAIMED TO SUPPORT "FAMILY VALUES." AT THE SAME TIME, A BLACK MAN WAS THE LARGEST LAND OWNER IN COFFEE COUNTY AND WAS BURNED OUT SEVERAL TIMES (AS WITH TOBY VICKERS IN MY STORY).
What are you most proud of with this story?
[OP] I AM MOST PROUD OF THE VOICE. WHEN I ALLOWED CARL TO TELL THE STORY, AFTER SEVERAL REVISIONS IN OTHER DIRECTIONS, THE BOOK TOOK ON ITS OWN LIFE. I LISTENED TO CARL AND TYPED AS FAST AS I COULD. I QUIT TRYING TO "WRITE" AND LET CARL TELL THE STORY. I LEARNED A VAlUABLE LESSON: IT'S ABOUT THE STORY, NOT ABOUT WHATEVER LITERARY VALUE IT MAY HAVE OR ABOUT HOW WELL THE AUTHOR CAN WRITE.
Why did you want to become an author in the first place?
[OP] I HAVE ALWAYS THOUGHT OF MYSELF AS A WRITER, WROTE POETRY AS A BOY, STARTED A NOVEL IN HIGH SCHOOL. THE NEED TO MAKE A LIVING KICKED IN, AND I TAUGHT COLLEGE COMPODSITION AND LITERATURE FOR FORTY YEARS. WHEN I RETIRED TEN YEARS AGO, I BEGAN WRITING FULL TIME.
What are your aspirations for the future?
[OP] MY GOAL IS TO SEE THE OTHER NOVELS IN THE SATILLA COUNTY TRILOGY TROUGH THE PRESS DURING THE NEXT TWO YEARS. AFTER THAT I WILL CONTINUE WRITING, PERHAPS A CIVIL WAR NOVEL, FOLLOW A YOUNG SOLDIER FROM SATILLA COUNTY THROUGH THOSE YEARS. I INHERITED A PIECE OF THE FAMILY FARM AND HAVE ESTABLISHED A WRITING PLACE OUT HERE. I TAKE CARE OF THREE DOGS, GARDEN, CUT GRASS AND WEEDS WITH MY JOHN DEERE TRACTOR, AND WRITE BOOKS. IT'S THE LIFE I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED, AND I AM LOVING IT. I HOPE I CAN HOLD IT TOGETHER FOR A WHILE YET.
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About the author, Oscar Patton
Oscar Patton is a graduate of Berry College, the University of Tennessee, and Florida State University. A retired college professor of literature and composition, he now spends his days at his writing place on the family farm near Ambrose, Georgia. He has written and is revising for publication two more novels for a Satilla County trilogy.