CBR15 BINGO: (Politics Square: the politics of prohibition, organized crime, and a family dynasty running ALL of the politics of a rural Virginia town)
I’m a big fan of Jeannette Walls so this one was put on hold at the library before its publication. Set in rural Virginia during Prohibition, it seemed right up my alley. Give me a flapper, some bathtub gin (or in this case, moonshine), some small-town organized crime, and digging in!
Walls’ does write about what she knows in terms of setting. Rural Virginia is another character in her books and the twists and turns of its landscape harbor all kinds of characters that feel authentic. There is always the sense that these are people she has met in real life or through family stories passed down through generations.
Here, it’s the Kinkaid family that rules a small mountain town. Its current patriarch, the Duke, keeps the citizenry in line, the money flowing and the political power consolidated on the branches of his family tree. When his only male heir doesn’t seem up to snuff for assuming the throne, the Duke sends for the daughter he sent away nearly 10 years earlier. Sally has the gumption that her younger half-brother does not but she’s not a boy. Eager to please her father and happy to return to the “big house,” she takes on the task of “toughening up” her extremely bright but sensitive sibling. While navigating the disapproval of her stepmother, the apprehension of her half-brother, and the demands of her father, Sallie yearns to do more than just groom the next leader of the Kinkaid family.
Eventually taking on the job as the Duke’s rent collector, Sallie begins to learn more about the interworkings of her family’s empire. When a terrible accident pushes her deeper into the business, she is forced to reckon with the legacy she thought she deserved and the harsh reality of its politics.
While I enjoyed rattling around the winding hills of Virginia in a Model T full of hooch, something was missing for me here. After the first 1/3 of the book, it became a little repetitive and the narrative went a little off the rail towards the end. A tornado of illegitimate children revealed at just the right time and a Hatfield and McCoys situation (with tanks!) were shoehorned into a story that was already full of enough drama on its own.