Stoddard is a tall, dark and handsome scalawag with a weakness for
whiskey, women and gambling. He also is partial to his middle
daughter Jeanine, whom he treats like the son he always wanted but
never had. Jack, who is "a good hand with horses" and "could take
on any job of freighting," searches for work while America
struggles through dust storms, drought and the Great Depression.
After crude oil springs up from the Texas earth, Jack moves his
wife Elizabeth and their daughters --- Mayme, Jeanine and Bea ---
across the rugged fields of East Texas. But no matter what he tries
to make his family's life better, it ends up a failure.
After Jack is "felled by sour gas," the family's situation turns
from bad to worse. When Jack dies alone in a jail cell, the
Stoddard women are unable to pay the ten-dollar rent they owe, and
the landlord knocks on their door and turns them out in shame. With
their meager yet treasured possessions carefully packed, and with
Bea's cat and their father's racehorse in tow, the Stoddard women
travel to Elizabeth's family's abandoned homestead. They arrive at
the Tolliver farmhouse in Central Texas in the middle of the night.
With its broken windows, overgrown yard and damaged roof, the
Tolliver house sits on a ridge overlooking the "heavy darkness of
the Brazos River valley…adrift in a sea of starlight."
It is on the Tolliver farm that the Stoddard women pull together to
survive their harsh and cruel circumstances. They now have a place
to live rent-free, but to continue to stay on the farm, they must
first pay off the delinquent taxes that have accumulated over its
years of abandonment. The family survives on cornmeal, beans and
little else, but out of pride they refuse to accept relief. After
settling in, the older sisters decide to work together to save the
farm --- and their family.
Mayme finds a job to put food on the table and set money aside for
the taxes, and Jeanine takes up sewing and begins to rebuild the
farmhouse, which has suffered from years of neglect. Bea, the
youngest, continues her studies and writes her stories down in her
Big Chief tablet, until an accident leaves her near death and
unable to walk. A county nurse comes to the farmhouse and threatens
to send Bea to a home for children in Dallas because the family
can't afford an operation that will help Bea walk again.
To keep the family together, Jeanine gambles on their future. She
makes the decision to sell Smoky Joe (their horse) to Ross Everett,
a rancher and horse breeder who has had dealings with Jack Stoddard
in the past. Then, in desperation, Elizabeth invests what little
money her daughters have scraped together in a wildcat oil well
that could make them rich --- or ruin their hopes of carving out a
STORMY WEATHER is a poignant tale about courage, hope and sacrifice
in the bleakest circumstances. The historic setting, realistic
dialogue and well-drawn characters make it a joy to read. But the
elegant description and the graceful writing of author Paulette
Jiles make it a story that is hard to forget.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011