During the Depression Americans faced great hardships. Sometimes the hardship was felt more in cities, while in rural areas, where people raised their own livestock, or had gardens and other crops, the shortages were a bit easier to bear. During that period the Works Progress Administration implemented many social programs that put people to work. One of those projects was the Federal Writer’s Projects. Individuals were set to the task of going into communities, interviewing people, gathering details, and then ultimately writing histories.
There are WPA histories for the states that are excellent social histories. Karen Casey Fitzjerrell has taken the idea of a working for the WPA/Federal Writer’s Project and used it as the basis for her novel, “Forgiving Effie Beck.”
Mike LeMay leaves his elderly mother and other family in North Carolina as he heads to Cooperville, Texas, where he will undertake his work as a research/writer for the Writer’s Project. Like many people who traveled during the Depression, he hitches rides across the country to reach his destination. On the last leg of the journey, he and the man he’s hitching with stop at the home of Effie Beck, and when she does not appear after they honk the horn, they pick up a package out of the mailbox: ginger cake.
This is Mike LeMay’s introduction to the woman who runs her small ranch, where she has some cattle and a few chickens. He finds lodging in a room out back of the town’s beauty parlor, run by Cora Mae Travis and her daughter Jodean. This proves fortuitous, since Jodean is a good cook and can supply him with meals for a quarter, and the two women know most everybody in the community.
Mike is barely in town when Effie Beck goes missing, and although she has no family left in the town, and doesn’t even spend much time there, tending to stay out on her place most of the time, her disappearance is keenly felt by the community. There are massive searches that turn up nothing.
Mike LeMay, in doing his interviews for the Writer’s Project has a chance to ask questions, probe into the past and present lives of the folks in Cooperville, and along the way forge some deep friendships.
This is a story of the West, but more, it is the story of an era. It takes you right back to the Depression with great scenes, appropriate dialog and description, and a carefully crafted plot. If you want a good, solidly written book, this is an excellent choice. Highly recommended. ❖