I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, The Four Winds, is a heartrending story—a worthy companion to The Grapes of Wrath.
Hannah begins the story, “Elsa Wolcott had spent years in enforced solitude, reading fictional adventures and imagining other lives. In her lonely bedroom, surrounded by the novels that had become her friends, she sometimes dared to dream of an adventure of her own, but not often. Her family repeatedly told her that it was illness she’d survived in childhood that had transformed her life and left it fragile and solitary, and on good days, she believed it. // On bad days, like today, she knew that she had always been an outsider in her own family. They had sensed the lack in her early on, seen that she didn’t fit in. // There was a pain that came with constant disapproval; a sense of having lost something unnamed, unknown. Else had survived it by being quiet, by not demanding or seeking attention, by accepting that she was loved, but unliked. The hurt had become so common place, she rarely noticed it. She knew she had nothing to do with the illness to which her rejection was usually ascribed” (5). A sad, sorry from the very beginning.
Elsa was trapped. Hannah wrote, “She lit her bedside lamp and withdrew one of her most treasured novels from her nightstand. // Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” (9). After she read a while, “She closed the book, feeling more outcast now than when she’d begun. Restless. Unsatisfied. // If she didn’t do something soon, something drastic, her future would look no different from her present. She would stay in this house for all her life, defined day and night by an illness she’d had a decade ago and an unattractiveness that couldn’t be changed. She would never know the thrill of a man’s touch or the comfort of sharing his bed. She would never hold her own child. Never have a home of her own” (9).
The story picks up, “The rains had begun to slow in ’31, and in the last three years there had been almost none at all. This year, so far, they had less than five inches. Not enough to fill a pitcher for tea, let alone water thousands of acres of wheat. // Now, on another record-breaking hot day in late August, Elsa sat in the driver’s seat of the old wagon, her hands sweating and itching inside her suede gloves as she handled the reins. There was no money for gas anymore, so the truck had become a relic in the barn, like the tractor and the plow” (62).
Kristin Hannah has painted a portrait of the terrible existence befallen thousands of farmers during the Great Depression. I see this as an allegory based on the treatment of the poor in the 20th century. The Four Winds will bring tears to the eyes of the most hard-hearted reader. 5 Stars
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!