Friday, 12 February 2021

Hard Times by Les Edgerton

shortlisted for book of the month


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Fictional Drama
US South
1930s

"In 1930s East Texas, fourteen-year-old Amelia Laxault's father insists she marry Arnold Critchin, a local boy who assaulted her on their first date. When Arnold's alcohol-fueled brutality devastates their family, his ineptitude with crops destroys their farm, and his poorly run moonshine business lands him in prison, Amelia struggles to feed her four children as the Depression worsens and a secret from her past looms large.
    Three hundred miles away, Lucious Tremaine tangles with a white police officer. Fleeing to Houston, a second altercation leaves him with a gunshot wound. Desperate and weak, he makes his way into the backwoods.
    As Lucious encounters increasing obstacles and Amelia's challenges escalate with Arnold's return from prison-and a visit from her first love, who is now the local sheriff- an explosion looms. Will Lucious make it to Houston? Can Amelia save her children from both starvation and Arnold's increasing, vengeful violence? As the odds stack up and the food runs out, Amelia must summon all her courage, strength, and ingenuity to attempt to save her family."

This novel is an extension of a short story that I had read previously. The heart of the story remains unchanged. It concerns a woman living with her four children in a backwoods shack, trapped in a bad marriage by isolation and abject poverty. The backstory tells us everything we need to understand her predicament. The trap is sprung by a father with unshakeable convictions and an unopposable will who forces her to marry her abuser, coupled with those ancient cultural mores. Her husband, a failed farmer, treats her and the children worse than his prized dogs. The dogs get fed before his family, and what little money he manages to scrape together he spends on drink. And when an opportunity for release presents itself, she turns it down, trapped by the imperatives of her ancient culture: once you’ve made your bed you must lie on it.

The novel stirred distant echoes of Steinbeck, every bit as haunting as The Grapes of Wrath, but presented in a truly modern style. The total absence of quotation marks seemed appropriate, the omniscient point of view probably the best and only way this tale could have been told. Les Edgerton at his searing best.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© J J Toner




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