by Jack L. Kennedy
Back to the Homeplace, a first novel by William Leverne Smith of Hollister, MO (Vision to Action Publishing) is in some ways unique, as it updates the cliche of the "return to the humble Ozarks" with a very current plot, modern characters rather than rehashed hillbillies, and chapter introductions that give the reader a taste of what is happening in the world in the 1980s, contemporaneously with the story.
The tale revolves around family members who return, often reluctantly, from various locales and places in their lives to hear the terms of the will of the matriarch of the family. On her video testimonial, she divides the family property up and requires each of the inheritors to live on a tract for two years before benefiting from it, financially or otherwise. The idea of the plot is clever; it's not the often-heard tale of "good ole folks" returning to the home place and living happily or squabbling ever after. Smith claims this as the first of several "Home Place" novels, written as the modern family develops.
One rather early scene shows the tensions created when a generation with certain expectations or lifestyles is thrown into the Missouri Ozarks and is forced to evaluate who they are and where they are going, not just if they want an inheritance. Some family members find old memories, old relationships dredged up again. One generation meets another and learns to live with and, perhaps, to like, or, at least to understand, Mildred McDonald Bevins' and her late husband's insistence that their grown children, spouses and grandchildren prove themselves, even change, as they develop their own distinctive ways to handle their legacies--the land.
This family tree has some branches that do not always seem to come from the same roots. When the limbs are shaken, some surprises fall out. But despite themselves, most members persevere, grow on their new home sites, or return to their former lives to reassess themselves or make peace.
But as unusual and promising as the novel may appear at first glance, it can be puzzling and shallow at times. As a writing instructor, I was dismayed to find that the book was riddled with grammatical and typographical errors, as if no editor, publisher or the author considered proofreading of significance before the novel was submitted for printing. If the author meant to capture colloquialisms of the region, then as the reader, I missed his attempt. Of course, it is possible that a reader bred in the Ozarks might find a certain neglect of formal language familiar and comforting.
There are also at least two teenage sex scenes. They appear to be thrown in near the end of the tale as if the publicist recognized a need to include them to assure sales.
The publisher, based in Hollister as is the author, promises more from William Leverne Smith. The author is said to have been born and raised on a Midwestern farm, and inherited a passion for family history and relationships. Currently, Smith and his wife live in a cabin somewhere in the Ozarks within proximity to Springfield, MO.
The search for love and acceptance is never easy, nor for me is navigating choppy paragraphs, typos and superficiality. The first volume seems to end rather abruptly, with some things unresolved. Perhaps, they will be settled in succeeding stories.
Yes, writing style and proofreading/editing should be improved as those other books come along. But as a first effort, the plot, setting and premise were promising and should be appreciated by other families experiencing the same trials and tribulations. Stay tuned, as this family tree grows--even, perhaps, with a few nut trees. The second book is due in spring 2011.
Title - Back to the Homeplace
Author - William Leverne Smith
Publisher - Vision to Action Publishing or Amazon.com's CreateSpace; (March 25, 2010)
$10.76 at amazon.com