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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Wednesday, November 21

Dust Bowl & Lincoln

We’ve had two history lessons this week—Ken Burns’ four-hour PBS examination of the Dust Bowl decade and the recently released Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis not just portraying Abraham Lincoln but actually becoming him.

First, the Dust Bowl. I was a young lad in South Dakota throughout most of the 30’s, and I vaguely recall how hot and dry the summers were, how the dirt would whistle down the unpaved streets in winds that never seemed to end. But I don’t remember anything as horrible as the drought and dust storms that went on and on in Texas,, New Mexico, the Oklahoma panhandle, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas.
The mountainous clouds of dirt and dust and sand that billowed up and over those regions must have been horrible, making the air nearly impossible to breathe, darkening the days to a black that was blacker than any eclipse could cause. The years of drought, of failing crops, of dropping prices for those smaller and smaller crops must have been awful. Nature and poor farming practices were to blame for the conditions, with greedy farmers and corporate farms plowing under the sea of native buffalo grass that had for centuries held the soil in place, held the moisture in the ground until drought conditions passed. Yet many of those people, according to Burns’s story, held on and on to what little they had left. Until finally, many of them made their way west to what they considered the land of milk and honey, California, only to discover their mistreatment there was nearly as bad as what the drought and dust storms had done to them back home. They were products of the Great Depression, all labeled “Okies” even though many of them were from places other than Oklahoma, most of them looked down upon as tramps and paupers and given jobs in the California fields for paupers’ wages. I learned that although Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath won all the popular acclaim for dramatizing this era in our history, a woman named Sonora Babb had written a similar novel just ahead of Steinbeck, a novel that took 67 years to find publication—Whose Names Are Unknown. I think I may need to find this novel and read it, see if, in fact, Steinbeck didn’t steal this idea from someone who lived it instead of someone who only investigated it and then wrote about it, winning a fame that might have more rightly belonged to Sonora Babb.

Then there’s the story of Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed at a time when the Civil War was nearly ended and the certainty that the amendment wouldn’t pass if the southern states, reinstated into the Union after the war, were allowed to vote on its passage. Interesting. Enlightening. I never knew about the chicanery he had to resort to for the needed twenty yes votes in the House of Representatives, the legal and not so legal bribes to congressmen to win their votes. I didn’t realize that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from severe headaches, that she was considered by many to be mad. I didn’t fully realize how much he was loathed by those who opposed his efforts to emancipate the blacks, or how much he was loved by those who sided with him, admired him for what he had done to save our nation and make slavery illegal. Stephen Spielberg’s film is long, dark, filled with dialogue and essentially actionless, yet very important in making statements that reflect on our past as well as our present. Daniel Day-Lewis has a very good shot at winning another Oscar for best actor. Tommy Lee Jones, as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, despite his growing ugliness as a person but not as an actor, may also win for best supporting role. Go see it, if not for the acting, for the history lesson we could all use.
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