Book Review: Jack Woodville London, Virginia's War

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Anyone who has lived in a small town, particularly one in Texas, will recognize the trappings of existing in such a fishbowl in the lives and characters of Jack Woodville London’s Tierra, Texas, in the first book of his French Letters trilogy, Virginia’s War.

Just like those of everyone else in America, the lives of the Tierra residents in 1944 were wrapped up in World War II. While sons and husbands fought on battlefronts overseas, Americans at home were involved in their own war efforts: rationing, victory gardens, writing to soldiers and waiting for letters, raising war babies and, in some cases, avoiding military service and operating a black market for ration stamps and scarce goods. All these things, and a little mystery as well, were playing out in the microcosm of Tierra.

London introduces us to Sandy Clayton, a typical teenager who views the war through the romantic eyes of a boy trying to become a man, and Virginia Sullivan, a beautiful girl who has kept one of the town’s favorite sons, Will Hastings, on a line for seven years without a commitment to wait for him while he serves in the war. After Will leaves for Europe, Virginia discovers she is pregnant with his child, and her father Poppy — the nonmafia equivalent of the town’s godfather — publishes a story in his newspaper announcing she eloped with Will before he shipped out for war. Will knows nothing about the “marriage,” and Virginia’s vindictive, draft-dodging brother Bart, the town’s postmaster, holds Will’s letters from her, leaving her in the dark about his fate and how to contact him.

There are also side stories: a childish feud between Virginia and her former best friend, Shirley Fleming, over Will’s affections; a lucrative black market controlled by Poppy and a crooked sheriff; a spoiled son’s misguided notion that he is above the law; and a mystery over a fire that destroyed the town’s major economic engine, the cotton gin.

It’s a charming book and gets my highest compliment: a plea for London to speed up the publishing process so I can find out what happens to Virigina, Shirley, Sandy, Poppy, Bart and the guy you love to hate, Sheriff Hastings. London will discuss and sign his book from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, April 1) at Maple Street Book Shop (7523 Maple St.). Read an interview with the author here.

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