What an intriguing title! Novels with eye-catching titles often fall flat in the reading. Not so with Peculiar Savage Beauty. Curious about the title, I dove in and McCann’s beautifully descriptive prose swept me away. Here is an outstanding historical novelist with a flair for storytelling and a soul for creating endearing yet complex characters. McCann’s first novel, All Different Kinds of Free proved her talent. Her second novel confirms it.
Timely in its concept, the book tells the story of industrious RJ Evans, a woman who must push social boundaries to effect positive change in the drought-ravaged Great Plains of the 1930’s. Sent by the US government to a small town in the Dust Bowl, RJ is tasked with overcoming gender prejudice and educating people set in their ways. Along the way we meet:
- RJ, indefatigable and lonely.
- Woody, smarter than most, underestimated by many.
- Ethel, wise and warm-hearted.
- Stormy, the dog nobody wanted.
The novel juxtaposes nature’s ravages with friendship’s bond and human resilience. Stunning in its execution, the book captivates the reader, delving into these perplex and pertinent questions:
- If we can’t make it rain or stop the wind, what can we do to tame erosion and bring the land back to life?
- How did the unforgiving climate affect people’s everyday lives, the food they ate, and their children’s schooling?
- How did people make a living when paid jobs were practically non-existent?
- How did the unrelenting dust storms affect the flora and fauna of the region?
- How did the US government train and aid farmers who were victims not only of the drought, but also of the Great Depression?
- Can we dominate environmental disasters or do they conquer us?
- How were autistic people treated in a time before we understood their challenges?
Erosion nearly smothered Kansas in the 1930’s, but the characters in this book breathe life into each other. Peculiar Savage Beauty is full of gumption, poignancy, and historical punch. Highly recommended.
I thank the author and Perspective Books for the advance copy.