Author Shirley McLain’s latest novel ‘Dobyns Chronicles’ is a historical fiction loosely based on the life and times of her grandfather Charles Kenly Dobyns. Charles or Charley to those close to him was the eldest son of Kennerly, an American cowboy and Eliza, a Cherokee Indian and was raised in a farm in Red River in Bonham near Northeast Texas. The book chronicles his life story from the late 1800’s when he was a young boy in a Texan farm to mid 1950’s when he became a great grandfather in McAlester, Oklahoma. The book paints a moving real life story about a young man’s resolve dealing with the various tragedies life threw at him while also caring for his two siblings, younger brother David and sister Viola. This novel presents a fascinating look at vintage Americana and will fill your mind with nostalgia about a simpler life led in much simpler times.
Right off the bat, the first thing that you are going to notice and that too barely a couple of pages into the book is the wonderful use of the English language. It has become almost a rarity in mainstream literature to come across such beautiful phrases and prose that make you stop and read a line twice just for the sheer literary pleasure it gives you. The next best thing about this book is the pitch perfect way in which the author has been able to portray the laid back and lazy times with the back breaking, difficult and adventure filled day in an old western town. It is so descriptive that the character’s spirituality, the numerous odd jobs done around the house, cattle drive and horse breaking somehow become second nature to you by the time you are done with the book. And for people of this century where everything is available to them at the touch of a button, this book will be a throwback to our older and harsher times when day to day living meant a constant battle with the various elements of the nature.
Blending the fiction seamlessly with the many historical and factual events of the late 18th century and early 19th century, Shirley has made good use of various events like the yellow fever epidemic, the great depression and the absurd tax laws to good effect and has used them strategically at various points in the novel to underline the emotions of her characters in that setting beautifully. The changes happening over time and the various developments too have been captured nicely; case in point is Charley staying at a hotel for the very first time. Shirley also seems to have a knack in getting children’s behaviour and their conversations right, the change in tone and content when the conversation moves from a child to an adult is always bang on target.
The entire book will tug at your heart strings and make you think about your own family, it will also make you reminisce about your childhood as you read about the childhood of the Dobyn kids. And even though your childhood may have been vastly different from theirs, you will still feel a connection to the various commonalities that affect us humans across time and different nationalities. The epilogue and the photographs at the end really get to you and even though a life that you have been witness to from a young age has come to an end, you are in a strange way left with so many memories of this man. And this is because of the way the author has captured these scenes and emotions, by taking you right into the lives and homes of these people instead of merely narrating a story.
Great authors have often talked about the secrets that make a book appeal to audiences everywhere. They stress upon having a standout first chapter to make the readers commit to the book, a good first page that will blow them away and a great first line that will stay etched in their memory forever. If they are right then Shirley’s book has scored a definite ace on all three fronts and has emerged a clear winner.