Category Archives: Oklahoma Writers

The Book Whisperer Reviews an OK Story

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Floyd

This spring, I have participated in Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma, a book club sponsored by the Oklahoma Humanities. The book club meets at the Museum Broken Arrow in the Rose District. The books for this series titled The Oklahoma Experience: The Thirties include Will Rogers: His Wife’s Story by Betty Rogers, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Roughneck by Jim Thompson, and The Silver DeSoto by Patty Lou Floyd.

Because of a change in Museum Broken Arrow’s leadership, the interim director chose a series of books that members had read only two years ago. Since I was not in the group until last year, I had not participated in those discussions. The number of people attending the discussions has been severely limited since the people who had just read and discussed the books two years ago did not wish to re-read them so soon. However, those who are attending have found the discussions to be lively and informative.

The books include a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. For some reason, when I began reading The Silver Desoto by Patty Lou Floyd, I thought it was a memoir. That assumption left me a bit confused when Ethel, the woman who always appears to help the family when a death is near, keeps calling the narrator Betty when her name on the book is clearly Patty.

After reading a bit further, I realized Patty Floyd has fictionalized her story by changing the names of people and the town where she grew up. She grew up in Duncan, OK, but she calls the city Dixter in The Silver Desoto.

Floyd tells the story through a series of vignettes. They are not in chronological order either, but mixing the order did not interfere with the reading of the book. The first story opens with Ethel showing up at the door. Eighteen-year-old Betty is ready to graduate from high school and go to college. Nana, her maternal grandmother, is her last near relative still living.

Little Auntie, Betty’s mother’s only sibling, dies when Betty is five. She does not understand what has happened and blames herself for Little Auntie’s death—or disappearance. Betty thinks she has misbehaved once too often and now the punishment is the loss of her beloved Little Auntie. Her mother and grandmother do not do well in telling Betty about death and loss; thus, the little girl is left to figure it out on her own.

Little Auntie’s death is only one of the secrets in the household. Mother has divorced and returned home to live with Betty, much to Nana’s chagrin. Divorced women are restricted in what they can do, were, and say, according to Nana.

Grandfather is the next family member to die, leaving the house of women: Nana, Mother, and Betty. Then Mother develops breast cancer. After Mother’s death, Nana and Betty live in their two bedrooms and the kitchen while Nana keeps the rest of the house locked and unused.

Betty does write about funny moments. She describes town characters. Those who have grown up in small towns will recognize the people in Betty’s stories.

Finding information about Patty Lou Floyd is difficult. She is not listed in the Oklahoma Historical Society’s encyclopedia about Oklahoma. A search on Google yields only where her two books can be purchased, all used bookstores online. On the book jacket, readers learn that Patty Floyd “is a Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Tulsa. She is a trustee of Grinnell College in Iowa. She lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Takes a Look at an Oklahoma Writer

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James Myers (Jim) Thompson was born in Anadarko, OK, shortly before statehood on September 27, 1906. In Roughneck, published in 1954, Thompson gives readers an inside look at the trials of this life, not holding back on his foibles.

Destined to be a writer, Thompson sold his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Over his career, he wrote twenty-nine books including Roughneck, a memoir. In addition to his novels, he co-authored two screen plays for Stanley Kubrick: The Killing and Paths of Glory. Both American and French directors have made Thompson’s novels into films including The Killer Inside Me, After Dark, and The Grifters.

Library Journal reminds readers that Roughneck is “another of Thompson’s autobiographical titles and supposedly true; fans know that half of [Roughneck] is inseparable from his crime writings.”

Jim Thompson had too many jobs to mention here. He tried his hand at a number of jobs from newspaper boy to plumber’s helper. He lived paycheck to paycheck and often had a few cents to no money in his pocket. In Roughneck, readers can follow Jim as he moves from OK to TX to NE and back to OK.

One of his best jobs came when William Cunningham, director of the Oklahoma Writers’ Project, hired Jim. It was not only a steady job, but it also involved his first love, writing. Thompson and his team published a Guide to Tulsa and a Calendar of Annual Oklahoma Events. As always, though, disagreements and arguments haunted Thompson and the projects he wished to complete. Because Thompson had joined the Communist Party, he lost the job when Gov. Leon Phillips rooted out the Communist members of the writers’ project. Still, Thompson had tried to resign four times before that, so he simply moved on to the next job.

As part of the federally funded writers’ project, Thompson taught workers who were “poorly educated” and “others who had no work experience.” He taught classes after work: spelling, typing, shorthand, and business etiquette. He proudly explained that many “unemployables” then found jobs.

Roughneck is an entertaining look at Jim Thompson’s life. He does not gloss over his struggle with alcoholism. In fact, some of the benders he describes would certainly have killed many other people. He writes about eating at soup kitchens and about “signs offering new shoes for a dollar, complete men’s outfits (slightly used) for two-fifty, and clean hotel rooms for five dollars a month.” Often, however, he did not have even a quarter in his pocket, so he had to be resourceful in finding food and lodging. He always landed on his feet, however.

I found myself wondering how Thompson lived to be 71 years old because his early life certainly was difficult.  His difficulties about finding and holding onto employment, his smoking and alcoholism make it is easy to see that he could have died a young man. Roughneck is an honest ad open portrait of a writer not afraid to take a hard look at himself.

The Web site Biography offers an extensive look at Jim Thompson: https://www.biography.com/people/jim-thompson.

To learn more about Jim Thompson, read about him at The Oklahoma Historical Society:

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TH013.