Skip to content

review– HARVESTING BALLADS, San Francisco Chronicle

The importance of age and place in people’s lives is a dominant theme in the current batch of novels,most clearly in “HARVESTING BALLADS”  by Philip Kimball. This long, sprawling first novel attempts to encompass the history of the Great Plains and its settlers from the 1920s to the present. The true hero of this book is not a person but the prairie itself, expressed through the lives of those who have endured its tornados, dust storms, flash floods, droughts, freezing cold and stifling boredom.

“Shooting snooker and pissing in the shuffleboard machine. Seemed to be ’bout the only things to do in Buffalo Gap. The wind howling, hot dusty night and stars, roiled the South Dakota shortgrass prairie hills.” So it begins, and suddenly conventional sentence structure looks stilted compared to this lively rendering of the way people talk and feel. The central conflict is between young Sorry, a college, dropout who plays a steel guitar, and his middle-aged Uncle, Marcus, an indomitable farmer with a character of granite.  Some of the stories are so funny, and so touching, that they make you yearn for the lives of those who tell them– hard-luck cowboys, drifting bronco stompers, snooker hustlers and ordinary field hands.

–Marion Benedict