I’m a patient person, but when you’re #256 on the hold list with 17 copies of a book circulating through your library system, with a three week checkout period… well, I’m not that patient. As soon as The Four Winds was released, there’s been talk about it being book of the year. I could not wait six or more months to check it out of the library, so I burned an Audible credit to buy the audiobook. Do I agree with all the buzz about this book?
From the publisher: “Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds (Amazon) is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.”
This is my first Kristin Hannah book. I rarely read best sellers because they are best sellers and wait for the fervor to die down to read a much-hyped book. But there was something compelling about reading about the Great Depression and all the deprivation a year into Covid lockdown. I’d read The Grapes of Wrath (Amazon) in high school and watched the movie starring Henry Fonda (Amazon) both of which I found excellent. I have watched Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl (Amazon) too many times to count, especially when my son was in fifth grade and he watched excerpts in class and was really interested in the topic. I was happy to pull out my DVDs and let him watch from beginning to the end. I’ve read several non-fiction books about the Dust Bowl and feel I know the facts of that part of The Great Depression well.
And maybe that was my problem with The Four Winds. It seemed like every bad thing that had happened to someone during those awful years of the 1930’s was heaped upon poor Elsa Martinelli, a woman who has been dealt a horrible lot in life. The woman never caught a break, from her horrible parents to her no-good husband to her spoiled brat daughter, there was no joy in the book at all. It was all one big downer. And during a year-long pandemic, I did not want to be brought down.
That’s not to say that the writing was bad. Hannah’s writing is good, I can see why she’s so well-regarded. Her writing is so good, you can’t help but be depressed by all the misery she’s writing about. Her descriptions of settings are superb. But her characterizations of people were too stereotyped, from the daughter who constantly sides with her father over her mother, to the Italian Catholic mother-in-law or the handsome husband who only marries her because it’s the right thing to do. Even after Elsa moves to California, there’s stereotypical “common folk” in the camps and a labor organizer who sounds and acts just like he’s out of central casting.
The main problem I had was that, as mentioned above, I’ve already read The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s almost journalistic story that won him the Pulitzer Prize. There’s a lot of context and detail in that book, and one of the reasons it was an instant classic. The Four Winds seems like it is trying to hard to be just like The Grapes of Wrath, and it comes up short. Elsa meets so many baddies who treat her and her kids horribly, you just know how the book is going to end. I saw the ending coming a mile away, and normally I’m not that astute.
I think I’ll stick with Steinbeck.
This is the 31st Audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.
For more reviews, visit www.bargain-sleuth.com
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