Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust BowlThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was out of my mind for the last third of this book. Basically, I listened to it during an extended work trip and between the daily around the clock schedule, the jet lag of international travel, and my ongoing marathon training plan I was struggling to say the least. I wonder if this helped me to relate to those struggles outlined in the book? No, I don't think so. My saving grace was that the whole experience was lubricated by ever-flowing Mtn Dew. Yes, someday I will pay the price for this.

About the book: This was an interesting read that was part history, part drama, and part instruction manual. While I had heard about the Dust Bowl crisis in a classroom years earlier, this was the most in-depth look I have had of the whole situation. No, I have not read the Grapes of Wrath, or any other such drama-heavy versions of the time period. The Wizard of Oz conjured up the closest related literary experience in my memory, but was not a great parallel based on the number of Munchkins and witches involved. Those people lived in a tough time, no bones about it, and the lessons in human nature, government intervention and respect for nature abound in their stories.

Why this is just a 3-star book for me: While the stories were fascinating, I don't know that I appreciated the delivery. The writing was fantastical, using language that I felt inflated each moment in an effort to wring the drama out of the story. Yes, the times were tough. People died. It was awful. But the narrative felt like it was trying to convince me that this was the worst thing that had ever happened on the face of the earth. The title even claims it. Really? The worst ever? There are millennia of bad times, tough situations, both man made and natural in this comparison. Were invading troops of nomads sacrificing humans and eating babies? Were people caught in earthquakes that swallowed up loved ones whole, never to be seen again?

Yes, these were hard times, but there is a universal truth that is ignored when a story is approached like this: someone always has it worse than you. Especially when you take on all of human history. The atrocities we know of are heart wrenching. There are probably so many more that we are blessed to NOT know about. How can we say that one time, or one challenge is the worst? Why should we portray any one event in so fantastic a light that it is labeled as the "worst"? Don't we each have a "worst" time in our lives, and while it may not objectively measure up with history's standards, it will be the most real for me. And this is not just the claim on the cover, it is the tone that pervades the entire book. So while the story was interesting, I was continually rubbed raw by this point throughout the book. It was like millions of tiny particles of sand by endlessly thrown against my eardrums until the only thing I could hear was the pleading of my mind for surrender from the drama (see what I did there? Pretty annoying, right?)

So, give over. Let this awful time be an awful time, not the worst time. Let these stories of brave, although in some instances foolish, men and women carry their own weight. Don't embellish or try to paint the scene with your own palette of emotions. I'll get it when I hear the story. Don't use flowery language to tell me the story. Show me the story, and as a feeling human being, I'll experience the emotion on my own.