In A STRONG WEST WIND, author Gail Caldwell divides her life into
parts: the first thirty years spent in Texas, and what came after
that, her post-Texas life. She continually interweaves the lives of
her parents --- who came of age during a world war --- with hers,
which was shaped by the turbulent '60s.
Gail was born in the Bible Belt of the Texas Panhandle in 1951.
Stricken with polio shortly before the discovery of the Salk
vaccine, learning to stand up, then remain upright and eventually
walk was a real struggle for this tenacious young girl. Her sister
Pam, older by two years, taught Gail to read at age four, and this
opened the door to a magical world for her. She seemed to absorb
books; they were her escape as well as her internal
Gail was a shy child in a fairly boring town where the winds howled
ominously and the horizon seemed to go on forever. She loved
fiction, especially war novels; as a teenager she wrote sad poetry
and dreamed of leaving the barren Texas landscape behind her.
The quiet bookworm rebelled as adolescents often do. Smoking,
rock-and-roll, and hanging out with friends became her new
interests. Her first serious boyfriend --- who appropriately could
be called a parent's nightmare --- hung around for two years. The
lifelong closeness she had felt to her father dissolved as he and
Gail seemed to be on opposite sides of every issue.
She enrolled at Texas Tech, but her years of serious reading did
not translate into her being a model student. She switched majors
every semester and was more interested in world events, especially
the Vietnam War, than her studies. She was arrested in 1970 for
possession of marijuana; the charges were later dropped but the
arrest widened the schism with her father.
Gail drifted into the antiwar movement and moved to Austin to
attend the University of Texas. In the summer of 1971 she
hitchhiked to Berkeley and wandered around for several weeks,
absorbing both the atmosphere and the philosophy of the area. She
returned to college, only to drop out just weeks shy of graduation.
Gail seemed at loose ends. She spent some time in Mexico with
friends, participated in the women's movement, and even played in
an all-girl honky tonk band. Finally she returned to the University
of Texas, where she was an American Studies student in graduate
Against the backdrop of Gail's growing up and rebellion, she
contrasts the lives of her family both as she perceived them as a
young child and how she eventually came to understand the reality.
It's quite clear that the author believes we are heavily influenced
by our geographic landscape, by the books we read and internalize,
and by the obligations and restrictions placed upon us at
developmentally critical times in our lives. By looking back
through her life in an in-depth, soul-searching manner, Gail seems
to have arrived at a solid appreciation of her family as well as an
understanding of the complexities that shape us all.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 23, 2011
A Strong West Wind