Marva Dasef is one of those lucky writers who has a well of stories in her family. Her father, Eddie, grew up in Texas during the Great Depression. He has seen many things change during his lifetime, watched fads come and go and come again, and experienced the social climate alter with passing generations. In Tales of a Texas Boy, it's Eddie's childhood that comes under scrutiny. His stories, along with historical facts, and a sprinkling of imagination, have been lovingly gathered together by his daughter to form a warm and entertaining novel.
In some ways this is a collection of short stories; in others it has the feel of a serial. Using her father as the narrator, Dasef has found young Eddie's voice perfectly, and our central character affirms himself from the outset. Raised on a farm and surrounded by all manner of characters and situations, Eddie portrays a world vastly different to modern times, and a lifestyle that's certainly not always fun and games.
The family unit is quickly established. Eddie is shown as a good-natured kid, with dreams of being a cowboy. He divides his time between domestic chores, and rare moments where he is free to explore and follow his own pursuits, which usually lead to mishap and adventure. His relationship with his younger sister will feel wonderfully familiar to anybody with a sibling, and shifts between moments of love and infuriation. Eddie's mother is drawn as a firm but fair woman, who carries a sadness that her son can scarcely understand.
Eddie's relationship with his father is perhaps the most interesting dynamic of the book. Pa is a quiet and stalwart man who has experienced the ugliness of The Great War. He is determined that his son grows up wise to a harsh world, and some of the best moments of the book come when Eddie and his father are together. They also remind us of the struggles and hardships of an era where the young had to grow up fast.
All the stories are varied and well paced, and there's always something fresh and new for Eddie to experience. There's a dog-fighting bear, and a famous archaeologist. A conman comes calling, and psychopathic brothers feud over land. For a brief while Eddie lives his cowboy dream, and later there's an unexpected meeting with a Hollywood sex bomb. In another story, Eddie discovers that an elderly neighbour has passed on. This creates a heartbreaking moment where one so young is faced for the first time with his own mortality.
Serving as a break from the stories, there are brief moments in the book where the narration is moved away from Eddie's point of view. These segments prove to be both insightful and poignant. In the family unit, there are many aspects of life that children are oblivious to, and, indeed, protected from by their parents. During the story, there are certain things that Eddie doesn't spend time worrying about, and these leave the reader wondering. The switches bring a greater understanding of the world that surrounds our protagonist, and never more touchingly than when the viewpoint lands with Eddie's mother.
All in all, there's nothing to dislike about Tales of a Texas Boy. With the help of her father's testaments, Dasef recreates the era with real clarity. She conjures the characters and landscape until you can hear that southern drawl, and taste the dust in your mouth. One day a scriptwriter will find this book, and discover that it lends itself just as entertainingly to a TV series.
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