"Those stories were hard bought," says Elizabeth Stoddard, the mother of the family whose heartbreaks and hopes are portrayed in this absorbing novel of life in Texas oil country in the depths of the Depression. "Those stories came at a high price."
The stories she is referring to belong to the years -- covered in the opening chapters of Stormy Weather -- of the 1920s and the early 1930s, when her rakish husband Jack led Elizabeth and their three daughters from one oil boom town to another, never settling anywhere for long. A drinker and a gambler in a time when both drinking and gambling were illegal, the feckless Jack dies in disgrace. As the despair and dust storms of the Great Depression fall over them, Elizabeth and her girls are left with nothing but an abandoned and decrepit family farm and a fleet, volatile racing stallion named Smoky Joe Hancock.
Of the four Stoddard women, it is Jeanine, the middle child, and her father's favorite -- and frequently his sidekick at the Texas brush tracks where Smoky Joe raced -- who pays the highest price for the stories Jack lived. And it is she who occupies the emotional center of Paulette Jiles's generous tale, learning to tame both the wild farm and her wild heart on her way into adulthood. Charting the women's progress through many storms and struggles, Jiles rivets our attention to the Stoddards' hardscrabble world of droughts, tractors, horses, oil fields, and small-town life, precisely rendering the details of labor and landscape, machinery and weather. Peopled with a vividly drawn cast of characters, from Jeanine's sisters Mayme and Bea to her suitors, the stuttering newspaperman Milton Brown and the handsome, reticent rancher Ross Everett, Stormy Weather tells a story that balances the bleakness of hard times with the humor and resilience of people who can -- through persistence, luck, and love -- outlast them. Fulfilling the promise of her first novel, the bestselling Enemy Women, and utilizing the gift for striking language that animates her award-winning poetry, Paulette Jiles has written a magnificent, magnanimous family drama.
About the Author
Stormy Weather is Paulette Jiles's second novel. Her first, Enemy Women, a Civil War story set in the author's native Missouri, was published in 2002 and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. A national bestseller, it was hailed as "a delight from start to finish" by Tracy Chevalier. The Washington Post wrote that "comparing Enemy Women to Cold Mountain doesn't quite do Jiles's novel justice."
Born and raised in the Ozarks, Jiles moved to Canada in 1969 after graduating from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The author of several books of stories, essays, and memoirs, she has also won the Governor General's Award, Canada's highest literary honor, for her poetry.
Stormy Weather was inspired in part by Jiles's conversations with people who lived in Texas during the 1930s. She says, "I was drawn by stories from older people about the Texas oil fields during the Depression. Most of those who lived through the Depression seemed to feel that everyone was in the same boat -- drifting and rudderless. For Jeanine, Elizabeth, Mayme, and Bea, returning to the farm means coming home to an old remembered place, and slowly becoming a part of it again."
A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Jiles lives on a ranch with her two horses, Dolly and Buck, and a donkey named Billie Bray, near San Antonio, Texas.
From Our Booksellers
History, horses, humor, and heart. Stormy Weather is a charming book filled with strong women, delightful characters, and is a worthy follow-up to Jiles's debut, Enemy Women. Rich and atmospheric, its rhythm is pure poetry, evoking…Steinbeck's '30s.
A beautifully written and richly detailed book. Although the landscape of Depression-era Texas is bleak, the story is uplifting in a way I haven't encountered since Angela's Ashes.
Jiles has a knack for placing the reader in the moment. You feel the grit of the dust between your teeth and the heavy damp in the air before a storm. Stormy Weather is set in the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, weaving together love, loss, and history, yet often sparking it with a unique sense of humor. I didn't want to close the cover on these remarkable characters!
Like Little Women, Stormy Weather is a novel about a family of strong women trying to make their way in tough times.
Jiles's beautiful prose renders an almost cinematic scope of the Texas Dust Bowl in the '30s. Some lines literally stopped me in my tracks. A joy to read.