The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Friday, May 10, 2013

THE PECAN MAN

Cassie Dandridge Selleck writes a 142 page short story that some reviewers are comparing to  Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird . Are you kidding me? The only comparison that I can see is that the narrator of the novel, Ora Lee Beckworth, has Lee in her name. And okay there is a rape and the accused is black, but in this novel the victim is not white. There is no righteous white lawyer trying to right a wrong. Don’t misconstrue me, because I liked the story, but get real! Oh yea, the town in Harper lee’s book is Maycomb, and in this story it’s Mayville. So there you go with all the similarities that this reviewer found. Harper Lee’s novel has reached legend status considering her Pulitzer Prize winning novel was her only novel. Some people don’t even give her credit for that, saying In Cold Blood author Truman Capote really wrote To Kill a Mockingbird ( Harper Lee’s childhood friend ). Anyway enough of that, Selleck’s story does seem to come out of that Southern Gothic genre with the local language adding a lot of flavor to the times and location ( Florida in the 1970s ). The writer did afford the reader with enough reasons to feel empathy for the characters in such a short story. By the way, why aren’t the pages numbered? Wouldn’t that be considered ergodic?

Our narrator, eighty two year old Ora Lee Beckworth, relates a tale of bigotry and wrongful justice that happened in the past when she was fifty seven. It also tells the story of her black lifelong maid Blanche and her five children. No, the story doesn’t compare to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help ! The seven year old daughter of the maid Blanche, Gracie, apparently is raped by the white Chief of Police’s son, Skipper. Will anybody believe her? Would it be better to keep the incident under wraps, and tell the young girl that it was a bad dream? At the same time, Ora has hired a black homeless man, who lives in the woods. His name is Eldred Mims, known as the Pecan Man ( pronounced Pee’-can, according to the author ). Pecan mows lawns, works in gardens and has a mysterious background. As time goes by, Blanche’s soldier son, Marcus, comes home for Thanksgiving at a family gathering at Ora’s house. Marcus finds out what happened to his sister! He leaves in haste to find answers and runs into Pecan and later the infamous Skipper. This is where the story flares up. What follows is a tale of woe, guilt, injustice, and frustration. This type of story is a gut check for every decent human being. This is what can happen when any kind of racism occurs and is allowed to flourish.

Now, did I like the novel? Yes and no. Yes, because it exposes the ugly head of racism. No, because the story was very predictable and could have been written with a much stronger slant. I do think Cassie did a yeoman’s job and will probably be more robust and energetic in her next effort. I thought the story ended way too soon, and by doing that, Cassie lost her chance to write an significant novel. Southern Gothic Literature needs some new blood like the previously mentioned Kathryn Stockett. Come on, Cassie, lets get your act together! As far as recommending this novel, I’m going to put on my poker-face and declare neutrality.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: The Southern Gothic genre needs a comeback of sort, since the major classics were written in the 1930s, not counting the above mentioned Harper Lee 1960 classic. So what does this reviewer rate as his top three? Well, the following three novels have to be on everybody’s top ten: The number one Southern Gothic has to be Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 Pulitzer Prize winning Gone with the Wind . Like Harper Lee, this was Mitchell’s only published work. Set during the Civil War in Georgia, the novel is filled with famous lines. How about Scarlett saying:” As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.” Wow, is that strong, or what. And of course, Rhett Butler’s: “ "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Then we have Erskine Caldwell’s 1932 novel Tobacco Road . It’s the story of poor white tenant cotton farmers during the Great Depression. The novel is mainly about the Lester family. Some great quotes? How about Jeeter Lester saying: ”Why, Ada here never...never spoke a word to me for the first ten years we was married. Heh! Them was the happiest ten years of my life.” How about Lov Bensey’s famous line: “I ain’t tradin’ turnips with nobody.” You have to love these novels that have the color of the local language. Not everybody liked this novel, Slate Magazine had this to say: “Tobacco Road, set in a fictionalized version of Caldwell’s home town, lays bare the story of the Lesters, the poorest, whitest, trashiest, horniest family in rural Georgia.”

The third book is also a Erskine Caldwell effort, it’s God's Little Acre . Published in 1933, it is also filled with a obsession for sex and greed. It features Ty Ty Walden ( no mistake- the name is right ) digging for gold on one acre of his farm. In the novel, Uncle Felix says: “Mr. Ty Ty, you oughta' be out raisin' cotton. You're a good farmer - that is, you USED to be. Why, Mr. Ty Ty, you can raise more cotton on this land in one season than you can find gold in a whole lifetime. It's a waste of everything, Mr. Ty Ty, diggin' them holes all over the place.” Bookrags says this about the plot: “There are two major story lines in God's Little Acre. One is focused on Ty Ty Walden's search for gold buried, he thinks, somewhere on his land. The other concerns his son-in-law Will Thompson's efforts to reopen the cotton mill, which has been shut down by the owners due to a workers' strike. Both men are obsessed by their goals and are willing to risk all, their families and even their lives, to achieve these ends. Ty Ty's efforts seem the most foolish. He is not a wealthy man, but he does own his own land, land which could be used for planting and growing. Instead, he has let his acreage lie untended while he and two of his sons waste their time digging huge holes in the fields, turning his farm into a place of devastation.”

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for pointing me to this review, Rick. I appreciate both your critique and the discussion we have had on Amazon about it. I have always said that the best professional review (in my other career) has been my WORST, because it gave me insight I could use to be a better employee. The decision to self-publish was made without much expectation, so the fact that The Pecan Man has been picked up by several book clubs and has now been reviewed on YOUR blog is way beyond anything I anticipated. I just can't help but be encouraged by it all. This is all part of my education as a writer, and my growth as a human being. That was what I wanted for my characters...to show growth and enlightenment and understanding in a world where bad things happen. Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you so much, you are an amazing 5 out of 5 stars as a human being, and soon to have that same score as an author!

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    2. You are correct in saying that The Pecan Man doesn't compare to To Kill A Mockingbird or the Help other than it takes place in the South. However, you are wrong in saying that it should have been longer, more detailed, more Southern. It was exactly as it should have been. As you deftly went on to point out, we have a number of books that detail the uglier parts of Southern culture. What we didn't have was a book about one tragic experience to a little girl, a huge lie perpetuated, and the life long effects it would come to have on everyone around her. Cassie told that story beautifully, and not altogether predictably. She told it in a very clever way, concisely, from a woman's point of view. Something that few men seem to understand. How you would have told it would not have gotten the attention this lovely book has garnered. There are times when less is more. This is one of those times.

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  2. Hey, Rick...this is one of the reviews I still talk about all the time, especially what I learned from it. I wanted to let you know that I just published a second novel, What Matters in Mayhew. It is quite a bit lighter than The Pecan Man, but also longer. It is the first in a comedic series with dramatic overtones. Small town, Southern life. Thanks again for giving me the nudge I needed. I just completed a BFA in Creative Writing, so I feel like I'm a bit more qualified as a writer now. :-)

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  3. Hey, Rick...this is one of the reviews I still talk about all the time, especially what I learned from it. I wanted to let you know that I just published a second novel, What Matters in Mayhew. It is quite a bit lighter than The Pecan Man, but also longer. It is the first in a comedic series with dramatic overtones. Small town, Southern life. Thanks again for giving me the nudge I needed. I just completed a BFA in Creative Writing, so I feel like I'm a bit more qualified as a writer now. :-)

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    1. Hi Cassie, great to hear from you again. I have a lot of books on my desk to read and review first, but I will get to your second novel ASAP. If I provided a nudge...I couldn't be more pleased.

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  4. Just popping in again with a little update I thought you would like. I was interviewed for The Gainesville Sun this week because The Pecan Man is being made into a film. Once again...wholly unexpected given my publishing story. My agent dubbed The Pecan Man "The Little Book That Could," and it really is. I wanted to share this with you because I often find myself talking about your original review and what it meant to me. It came up with the journalist this time, too. It is always a positive thing for me. I've been reviewed a lot, but this is the one that stands out to me as the lesson in receiving criticism and processing it with honest self-reflection. I just published a sequel to TPM...The Truth About Grace. Took me a while, as usual. Anyway...just wanted you to know that I still appreciate your post.

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