Thursday, June 05, 2008

REVIEW: Bones of Plenty by Lois Phillips Hudson

Title: The Bones of Plenty
Author: Lois Phillips Hudson
Protagonist(s): George, Rachel and Lucy Custer
Setting: rural North Dakota in the 1930s
Rating: A+

First Line: For nine years George Custer had picked rocks out of the three hundred and twenty acres he rented from James T. Vick, but still the wheat fields were not clear enough to suit him.

This compelling novel is centered around one farm family as they struggle to earn a living during the Dust Bowl years of 1933 and 1934, and contains, I suspect, a large dash of autobiography since Hudson grew up in the same area at the same time. Some have likened The Bones of Plenty to The Grapes of Wrath, and for once I agree with the comparison. In fact, I prefer this novel to Steinbeck's for its uncompromising, unflinching look at farm life and the attitudes of the people in that era. My people were farm people, and I didn't hear one false note.

The prairie landscape and the weather are brought to pulsing life by Hudson. A chapter depicting a dust storm had my eyes watering and my lungs closing up. But no matter how wonderful her depictions of the natural world are, Hudson is brilliant with characterization. The story revolves around the Custer family: George, Rachel and Lucy. The daughter, Lucy, was my favorite along with her grandfather. The villain of the piece, to me, was the father, George. His stiff-necked pride and unerring tendency towards violence in thought and deed made my hackles rise. But...every single character is completely fleshed out; all their good qualities and their flaws are on view for everyone to see. It's been a long time since I've run across such marvelous characterization. It is a testament to Hudson's talent that, in the end, I felt compassion for the one character I thoroughly disliked.

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