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Growing up poor in Depression-era South Georgia is hard enough, but Roger “Bud” MacLeod has it tougher than most. All he wants is a calm, quiet childhood. Instead, he and his siblings are caught between warring parents whose secrets threaten to tear the family apart. He’ll have to grow up fast, just to endure. Before Bud can discover his strengths and confront the sins of his parents, though, he’ll need to grasp his own truth: that he can’t embrace his future until he comes to terms with his past.
Hardscrabble Road takes you along on Bud MacLeod’s journey of betrayal and love, murder and sacrifice, and his struggle for survival of body and soul.
Praise for Hardscrabble Road:
Reading Hardscrabble Road is like discovering To Kill a Mockingbird when no one else knew about it. It has that kind of impact. But then this novel has such fascinating characters, such vivid descriptions of South Georgia during the Depression, and such an uplifting storyline, that one day it may also be considered a classic.”
Jackie K Cooper, author of Back to the Garden, and critic for “The Huffington Post
“If George Weinstein’s Hardscrabble Road fails to find readership, it will be one of the literary tragedies of 2012. This profoundly told and splendidly written story of Bud MacLeod in his growing up days of the Depression in South Georgia, is one of the most engaging novels I’ve read in years. Rich in character-from Bud’s parents and siblings to his half-Japanese friend, Ry-Hardscrabble Road does what fine literature has always done: it reveals the tragedy and the tender hope of humanity. This is an effort to be celebrated.”
Terry Kay, author of To Dance with the White Dog and The Book of Marie
“It could be worse for Bud MacLeod-at least he has four limbs and a spleen. The great thing about the narrator of George Weinstein’s novel Hardscrabble Road is that Bud possesses plenty of heart, perhaps to make up for his stutter and birthmark. In the tradition of Erskine Caldwell and Harry Crews, Weinstein has written a novel filled with rage, violence, Sisyphusian efforts, and-deep-down-tenderness and wonder.”
George Singleton, author of Stray Decorum
“Unflinching in its portrayal of abject poverty and life in a deeply dysfunctional family-beautiful in its depiction of a boy who, somehow, survives it all.”
Augusta Trobaugh, author of Sophie and the Rising Sun, Music From Beyond the Moon, and The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society
“George Weinstein has written a magnificent novel, stark, funny, heartwarming-and with a sense of time and place worthy of Eudora Welty. Weinstein did his work so well that I was startled anew, each time I looked up from reading it, to find myself still in the here and now.”
Diane Thomas, author of The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley
“When a writer sits down to write a blurb for another writer’s work, there’s an aching urge to craft a sentence or two that shows off his own prowess at the game of words. Same with me. Instead, for George Weinstein, for his Hardscrabble Road, I have six words: This is a damn good book.”
Sonny Brewer, author of The Poet of Tolstoy Park
“In Hardscrabble Road, George Weinstein has compiled a haunting tale that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Because circumstances beyond young Bud MacLeod’s control have left him at the very edge of life’s abyss, I found myself cheering so strongly for him that I realized it had been more than a half-century since I’d been so affected by such emotional circumstances-that being Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.”
Jedwin Smith, nationally acclaimed author of Our Brother’s Keeper and Fatal Treasure
“George Weinstein’s authentic voice brings Bud MacLeod to life, a vivid character drawing me into his tough and tender Southern world. Bud fights to save his own soul with determination and heart. Hardscrabble Road is a bittersweet and gripping story that will steal your heart.”
Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author
“Weinstein has created a world of such vividness that you can smell the sweat on summer afternoons and hear the squeak of saddle leather; a world of cruelty, brutality, and secrecy, but shot through with moments of unexpected tenderness and grace. Bud MacLeod is a hero you will long remember. A wonderful book.”
Man Martin, author of Paradise Dogs and Days of the Endless Corvette
“With Hardscrabble Road, George Weinstein has penned an exquisitely written coming-of-age tale set in South Georgia in the difficult days of the 1930s and 1940s. With sharp and insightful description, artful turns of phrase, and a plot line that twists and weaves as protagonist Roger ‘Bud’ MacLeod struggles through his passage from childhood to manhood, this work is a beautiful example of the art of writing. A masterful story from a masterful author.”
William Rawlings, author of A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff (Mercer University Press, Spring 2013)
“Hardscrabble Road is a genuine slice of Southern life during the Depression. What makes this book shine is the engaging protagonist, Roger ‘Bud’ MacLeod, an endearing young man who survived his troubled childhood intact, one peppered with multiple hardships. Bud learns to forgive, and in doing so discovers one’s future is not what you find on a hardscrabble road, but what you ultimately make of it. I thoroughly enjoyed this memorable novel and highly recommend it.”
Jackie Lee Miles, author of All That’s True and The Heavenly Heart
“In Hardscrabble Road, George Weinstein has given us something special in Bud MacLeod, a boy navigating both the visceral and natural worlds in equal parts terror and fascination. The story here moves along rutted roads and long-leaf pine forests to an ultimate conclusion that is heart wrenching and violent and always surprising. This is a fine Southern novel, written by a novelist with an exquisite eye for the failings of human kind.”
Doug Crandell, Author of They’re Calling You Home and The All-American Industrial Motel
“Wow! What a great read. Pitch-perfect characters and evocative details makeHardscrabble Road a time-machine ride you won’t want to end. I was on board from the first gritty page. Excellent storytelling, George Weinstein!”
Lynn Cullen, author of Reign of Madness
“Hardscrabble Road is an unflinching and engrossing novel about growing up poor and close to the land in Depression-era South Georgia. A story about a young boy raised by cruel and violent parents, who nearly loses himself until he finds a half-Japanese friend. A must-read for fans of Harry Crews. I was swept away by this beautiful, gritty story!”
Julie L. Cannon, author of Twang
“Whether it’s avoiding his abusive father, or swimming in Spring Creek, Bud fights against the strong currents that try to take his life. I cheered for him to be a survivor of both. Hardscrabble Road is a page-turner that takes you back to the struggles and triumphs of the Depression-era South as seen through the eyes of a child forced to become a young man.”
Michael Buchanan, co-author and screenwriter of The Fat Boy Chronicles
“George Weinstein’s Hardscrabble Road cinematically brings the Deep South of the 1930s and 1940s to life. You’ll never forget Roger ‘Bud’ MacLeod.”
Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir
“A bit of Carson McCullers, a little Celestine Sibley, and just enough Erskine Caldwell to warm things up, Hardscrabble Road is a genuine portrait of South Georgia; hear the cicadas, feel the humidity-run from Papa.”
Phillip DePoy, author of A Corpse’s Nightmare and The King James Conspiracy
“In Hardscrabble Road, we walk Georgia’s dusty fields right along with young Bud MacLeod as he struggles to find his place within his family and the world. This dark Southern tale set against the backdrop of the Depression and Second World War rings true and fine and leads us to a moving finish of friendship and triumph.”
Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of The Improper Life of Bezellia Gove andLooking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen
“A chilling yet heart-warming story of a boy’s triumph over hard knocks, betrayal, and secrets. You’ll flinch, cry and fight with Bud, then cheer for Roger MacLeod at the end. George Weinstein nails the hardscrabble life of the Depression in this fast-moving tale.”
Jennie Helderman, Pushcart Prize nominee and author of As the Sycamore Grows
“The beauty of Hardscrabble Road is its Southern atmosphere. Weinstein knows the landscape of the rural South so well that readers smell the muddy fishing hole and breathe with delight the scent of wild honeysuckle. Bud’s journey into manhood is rife with violence and spirituality, and only by novel’s end do readers understand the power of how this once-stuttering, insecure young boy comes of age. The story demonstrates the pride of the American South while reminding readers that there is still much, deep in the country, to be corrected. With this effort, Weinstein joins the circle of Southern writers whose mission is to show the world the beauty-and the terror-of deep country living.”
Daniel Black, author of They Tell Me of a Home, The Sacred Place, and Perfect Peace
“You’ll root for Bud from the get-go in this rich, atmospheric portrayal of the Old South. Weinstein’s ear for dialect is superb.”
Zoe Fishman, author of Saving Ruth and Balancing Acts
“These days, good storytellers are hard to find. You’ll find one here.”
David Fulmer, author of Chasing the Devil’s Tail and The Blue Door
“George Weinstein understands the value of a story well-told. His passion, dedication, and love for writing are bone-deep and shine through in everything he does.”
Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen-A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life
Behold, a real coming-of-age story.
The Depression-era South overflows with trials. For most, those include extreme poverty and back-breaking work. On Hardscrabble Road, however, woes run much deeper. Young Bud MacLeod, at the epicenter of family tragedy, betrayal and haunted memories, fights an uphill battle against his own impediments. At the same time, he attempts to make sense of his calamitous life.
That beloved genre, the coming-of-age novel, saturates not only any given week’s best-seller list but the entire history of literature. Countless writers have tried to capture in prose this facet of the human condition, giving us generations upon generations of young protagonists against which we might measure our own early successes and failures. You have your Jane Eyres, Holden Caulfields, even your Bella Swans. Introspection, rebellion, heartache and small victories take center stage as these characters relay to us their perilous, involuntary marches toward adulthood.
Okay, so the genre’s been around the block. Now what?
Now George Weinstein’s Hardscrabble Road. Coming-of-age hasn’t come of age without it. Weinstein’s Georgian bildungsroman weaves a tangible, living atmosphere from a period setting, outstanding characters and a heaping dose of misfortune.
Cursed with a large birthmark on the right side of his face and a confidence-crushing stutter, six-year-old Bud MacLeod shoulders a daily roster of sharecropping duties under the oppressive and not-always metaphorical shadow of his abusive, Colt-toting father, Mance. Bud’s considerable workload serves as an effective eye-opener for today’s more ennui-prone readers, but blistered fingers only mark the beginning of Bud’s journey.
The youngest of four, Bud stands at attention on the bottom rung of his family ladder. No surprises in treatment there. The hostility with which his parents treat him, on the other hand, never fails to shock. A strict mealtime seating arrangement hides Bud’s offensive birthmark from Papa’s view. Both Mama and Papa mock his stammer:
I asked for the cornbread first, since only two thin wedges remained among the crumbs and flyspecks. Papa smirked, his eyes flint-gray like the arrowheads in the creek. “M-m-mama, th-th-thank you fer the c-c-c-cornbread,” he stuttered in a whiny voice. His imitation of me was dead on.
Mama snickered and asked me, “Y-y-you sh-sh-sure?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, looking at my empty plate. Neither my brothers nor Darlene made fun of my newfound stammer. They kept their faces blank and passed what I could manage to ask for. I assembled a puny meal, leaving some of everything for Papa.
Weinstein somehow imbues even the desolation of poverty with the breath of life. At the same meal, Bud’s observations fill out the MacLeods’ dusty, sun-bleached home:
Spiders had woven thick webs above the kitchen table. A good many flies that joined our mealtimes ended their lives up there. When we ate, the spiders ate too.
A hierarchy of mean-spirited parents, browbeaten children, scavenging bugs and marginalized black field hands fills the first chapter alone. Weinstein reveals an entire ecosystem of scarcity, and that ecosystem persists and expands all through Hardscrabble Road, illuminating still-lower rungs too. The web grows to encompass game both large and small, from that scarred-up rabbit digging vegetables out of Mama’s garden to Mr. Gladney, Bud’s repulsive school principal.
Still, Bud knows no wrath like that of his father’s.
Mance’s savage outbursts render corporal punishment an issue all its own. Without a second thought, the patriarch’s belt flies off to whip those he wants to keep subordinate. He slaps, punches, threatens. He belittles Bud at every turn. That ever-present Colt at his hip? Even holstered safely in his waistband, the weapon’s deadly potential symbolizes Papa at his best: a latent monster who calls the shots.
Strangely, Mance radiates a certain magnetism. Somewhere underneath the hardened exterior, he tucks away a man of values. The occasional kernel of wisdom or harsh truth adds a conflicted, but definite, aura of respectability to his personality. Like any well developed character, Mance operates in three full dimensions. Even after he shoots at his wife and disappears for days, Papa struts back onto the fields, high on his horse and Stetson-topped, reminding Bud of his favorite cowboy serial heroes. Bud’s short-sighted adoration beautifully betrays the way children forgive parents for unforgivable trespasses.
The author makes an interesting choice for his invented dysfunctional family. After picking up on Mance’s brutality, I expected parallels to books like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, in which the abusive father suffers from alcohol addiction. Weinstein instead chooses another avenue. Even while running a bootlegging operation, Mance won’t touch the stuff. In fact, he despises drunks.
The reason behind Mance’s abstinence figures prominently into the broader view of Hardscrabble Road, but no one explanation solves the whole riddle. Weinstein’s pace provides a steady flow of new puzzle pieces for Bud to fit together, though not in the cut-and-dried style of a mystery novel. True to life, some questions go unanswered.
Take the Dutchman and the Woman, for example. The Dutchman appears to Bud and his cohorts as a glowing orb and, on more than one occasion, aids him in exploits. More a reflection than an intervener, the Woman appears less frequently than the Dutchman, but her presence makes a deeper impression:
The Woman always dressed the same way, in a white flour-sack that blended with her porcelain arms and face. Regardless of the weather or time of day, she wore a lily-white bonnet and walked with her empty hands at her sides. She had on white high-button shoes that never got dirty or left a mark in the sand. The Woman was a haint.
The roles of these “haints” warrant comparison to the spectral visions in Wuthering Heights. Like Emily Brontë’s gothic romance, Hardscrabble Road incorporates ghosts with ambiguity, not as explicit confirmations of the supernatural. Everywhere else in the book, Weinstein’s scenes ring with unquestionable realism and honesty. It appears that the “haints and boogers” echo the real, unresolved horrors of the MacLeod family.
Weinstein balances realism with poetry elsewhere, too. The writing drips with richness and regional flavor, but this never sacrifices credibility. We’re tempted to call up an old adage for writing, “Do one thing and do it well,” but Weinstein puts that platitude to rest with his stark, no-B.S. prose interjected with phrases tender as a summer breeze and powerful as a dust devil.
In an early chapter, Bud spies his family in rare harmony:
Papa leaned against the railing with his back to me. My brothers sat cross-legged on the floor with our dogs, and Darlene was on the top step. They all watched Mama, who perched on the porch swing with her hands covering her mouth. She commenced to play “Barbara Allen” on the harmonica she carried in her apron pocket. Jay and Chet whistled along with her. Darlene hummed, since we all knew that whistling women and crowing hens always come to bad ends. Papa even made a few musical notes in his throat.
It was worth braving the nighttime to see everyone getting along. I only recalled a handful of other times when Papa and Mama had agreed to such a truce. My siblings craned their necks every so often and looked out at the front yard, but no one asked about me. A tire on Papa’s truck provided me with a backrest as I sat in the dark, watching my family act the way I imagined that other families behaved. I was afraid to join them and risk breaking the happy spell.
Time marches on. Quick as Papa’s belt, 10 years of Bud’s life flash before the reader’s eyes. Little by little, naiveté wanes. He meets girls and wins battles. Taking refuge in his school and reading, Bud’s confidence and assertiveness finally begin to blossom. He eventually grasps that he bears no blame for the sins of the father.
Yes, Hardscrabble Road uplifts. Long before deteriorating into a mere series of tragic events, Weinstein rewards readers with just enough cheer to let us catch our breaths. His pitch-perfect sense of tension and relief earn him top marks.
One universal mark of a great read becames abundantly clear by the final pages: I genuinely lamented the impending conclusion. The novel surpasses 300 pages—a functional length, but considering the large time gaps and a few loose ends, I could’ve easily read another hundred. Stretching for criticism, only the old cliché comes to mind: I didn’t want it to end.
Hardscrabble Road deserves as large an audience as any coming-of-age classic I can name.
Special Offer for Book Clubs
Order personalized, autographed copies for your book clubs for $15 apiece! Use the form on the Contact page to tell me how many copies you need, the names of the recipients for personalizing, and when you want me to talk to your group. I’ll visit personally if you meet anywhere in North Georgia, or I’ll call or Skype to connect with you anywhere else in the world, to discuss the novel and the “story behind the story.”
1. Bud MacLeod aside, who was your favorite character in Hardscrabble Road? Why?
2. What, if anything, did Bud do that you did not approve of?
3. What were the goals and motivations of Papa and Mama? Why did they do the things they did? Do you think they were two sides of the same coin?
4. Did you find anything sympathetic about either Papa or Mama and, if so, what were those attributes?
5. How would you define the characters of each of Bud’s siblings: Darlene, Jay, and Chet?
6. What, if anything, did you find sympathetic about Uncle Stan? Were there other deeply flawed characters who evoked sympathy, or even empathy?
7. Ry Shepherd determinedly goes against the grain in so many ways. How do you envision Ry’s future?
8. Many of the adult characters-white and black-act as if they are trapped by their circumstances and/or choices, and the MacLeod children are intent on not ending up the same way, fleeing South Georgia if they have to. Who, if anyone, did you find heroic for staying and scraping out a decent life? Did you find fault with anyone who left?
9. What do you think of Ry’s reactions to the barriers and restrictions that America and the South in the 1930s and 1940s imposed? Do you see Ry as an irresistible force overcoming those barriers or an unmovable object who causes people and events to conform to Ry’s worldview and sense of self?
10. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the time and place in which they live? How much of what happens to a person is determined by that time and place versus personal choices and actions?
11. How does Valerie Gladney (nee Wingate) affect Bud’s life? Did you have a teacher who would’ve done such things for you?
12. Among the secondary characters, who stands out most vividly in your recollection and why?
13. Bud does not prevail on his own; he has many allies along the way. In addition to his brothers, who aids Bud on his journey and why?
14. Bud also confronts – or has to sidestep or endure – a number of adversaries. In addition to Papa and Mama, who opposes him and why?
15. What do you think happens to Mama after the novel concludes? Do you think such a person can ever find happiness and lasting contentment? Do you think her sins will catch up to her, or is she a survivor who will always stay a step ahead of what some might say are her just desserts?