2 out of 4 stars
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The Byrds of Victory by James Robert Campbell is actually two books. The first, I AM A FREIGHT TRAIN, is the story of Preacher Byrd. It is a first-person account of memorable parts of his life. Nobody knows where or when he got the nickname 'Preacher,' but it stuck with him all his life. He tells stories of his dad, the forge, the depression, and the war. He speaks of his attempt to organize the farmers, and he gives us a glimpse of life in Texas during these years.
The second story, THE FIELDS ARE RIPE FOR HARVEST, takes place years later. It centers on the son of Preacher Byrd, Benny. It covers the summer after high school that he spent with a harvester crew. Working in the fields with big machinery was new to Benny, and he certainly learned much as they traveled from town to town harvesting field after field. He became friends with the rest of the crew, and they had some long and exciting work days. In their hours off, they drank and played pranks.
The writer has two very different styles. In Freight Train, it's like we're sitting on the porch with an Uncle Charlie-type character enjoying his life stories. His slang and speech are in tune with the era. It has a down-home, folksy feel. Phrases similar to 'he squeaked when he walked' to denote someone as a miser are used and explained by the context. The second narrative uses words like 'insouciantly' and 'felicitously,' vocabulary much different from the first book. While the first story seems calm and folksy, the second one moves faster and is rough and hard. There are very few explanations of the machinery and the workers' actions and reactions.
There is no foul language, but some may be offensive. Acceptable descriptive words have changed over the years. There is some violence in the narrative, but it is not gratuitous. There is no sexual content. The book could benefit from more editing as there were instances of mis-matched or missing words in phrases, such as 'Mama's Papa's favorite.'
My feeling about this book is that the first part would appeal to a different group than the second. The first, being about an older man congenially remembering his life, would appeal to those looking for a period piece about Texas in the early to mid-part of the 20th century. The second would appeal to those who know how to farm and the machinery involved. It's hard for someone who's never worked with these machines to imagine how large, powerful, and dangerous they are. I feel this part of the book was choppy, jumping from one scene to another. I give this book 2 out of 4 stars. It could use more editing. The scenes that go from one subject to another without segue need work.
The Byrds of Victory
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