Stormy Weather is the story of Jeanine Stoddard, her sisters, and their mother. Deserted and humiliated by their mercurial father and husband, Jack Stoddard, the women must negotiate the uncharted world of East and Central Texas during the Great Depression.
Jeanine, the middle-child, skinny and fierce, leads her mother and sisters out of the oil fields and back to the abandoned Tolliver farm of her mother’s childhood. There, they struggle to survive drought, dust storms, back taxes, injury, and the stigma of poverty.
But while the Great Depression and its hardships are common fodder for fiction, Jiles’ story of rough and tumble East Texas, its oil fields, its illegal horse racing, and its unforgettable characters is fresh enough.
Her prose, too, is vital, sweeping over vast distances in time and space at one moment, and honing into focus on a single scene the next. It is difficult to shake certain images in this book, such as the blind man who helps Jeanine load her drunken father into the family jalopy. Or the moment she catches her neck-scarf in the gearbox of an ancient tractor. The scene with Jeanine’s sister Bea at the well is transfixing, and the night Jeanine last speaks to her father in the family shed is also haunting.
The one problem with this novel might be the end. It cannot be said that Jeanine and her family do not undergo hardship in this story; however, I am wary of stories that end too well. They seem unlikely. And while Jiles does try to temper this fortune, it still smacks a little of Hollywood.
Nonetheless, Stormy Weather will lead you by the nose. A great read.