Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Paragraph Ranch

The Paragraph Ranch
Key Ellington & Barbara Brannon
$16.95, 312 pgs

When Mary Alice Bennett, fiercely independent and often cantankerous widow and mother of three, suffers severe injuries in a car accident her children must decide how best to help and (hopefully) how not to hurt. They have all moved far from their tiny West Texas hometown with its agricultural roots, decamping for economic and entertainment opportunity in the city.

The task falls to Dee, a professor of literature in North Carolina, to return to the farm and assist their mother in her recovery and grapple with what would be best for everyone going forward. The questions are important and painful: is Mama Bennett too elderly and infirm to continue to live by herself in her home? Should they hire help? Can they afford to hire help? Must she move to a retirement home or nursing facility? Is it time to sell the farm, the family's homestead? What responsibilities do adult children owe their aging parents?

Dee must also grapple with a looming publish-or-DIE deadline that could determine the future of her career, a daughter who seems to have lost her focus on her own future, ghosts from the past that threaten to haunt the present, and a mystery: how did Mama Bennett's car end up in that ditch in the first place?

Kay Ellington & Barbara Brannon
The Paragraph Ranch, in its determination to be authentically Texan and its emphatic devotion to a very specific setting, will give Texans a kick out of recognizing themselves and being able to nod their heads and say, "I know exactly what they're talking about." This book effectively paints a picture of the issues confronting contemporary Texas: rural migration, legal and otherwise, to urban centers and the resulting decline of small towns, especially in the plains and West Texas; economic diversification; environmental tensions regarding oil and alternative energy sources; drought; fears held by older generations that the youngsters are going to toss tradition overboard and we will be the poorer for it; younger generations who believe, correctly, that some traditions deserve to be tossed.

The Paragraph Ranch, the first in a new series, illustrates the tenacious hold Texas exerts on its children and asks the classic question, "Can you go home again?"

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