A Book Review by Jack L. Kennedy, Joplin Independent
Back to the Homeplace, a first novel by William Leverne Smith of Hollister, MO (Vision to Action Publishing) is in some ways unique, as it updates the cliche of the "return to the humble Ozarks" with a very current plot, modern characters rather than rehashed hillbillies, and chapter introductions that give the reader a taste of what is happening in the world in the 1980s, contemporaneously with the story.
The tale revolves around family members who return, often reluctantly, from various locales and places in their lives to hear the terms of the will of the matriarch of the family. On her video testimonial, she divides the family property up and requires each of the inheritors to live on a tract for two years before benefiting from it, financially or otherwise. The idea of the plot is clever; it's not the often-heard tale of "good ole folks" returning to the home place and living happily or squabbling ever after. Smith claims this as the first of several "Home Place" novels, written as the modern family develops.
One rather early scene shows the tensions created when a generation with certain expectations or lifestyles is thrown into the Missouri Ozarks and is forced to evaluate who they are and where they are going, not just if they want an inheritance. Some family members find old memories, old relationships dredged up again. One generation meets another and learns to live with and, perhaps, to like, or, at least to understand, Mildred McDonald Bevins' and her late husband's insistence that their grown children, spouses and grandchildren prove themselves, even change, as they develop their own distinctive ways to handle their legacies--the land.
This family tree has some branches that do not always seem to come from the same roots. When the limbs are shaken, some surprises fall out. But despite themselves, most members persevere, grow on their new home sites, or return to their former lives to reassess themselves or make peace.
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"May each of us have a Homeplace to hold onto, if only in our minds."