Following the Harvest
This coming-of-age novel is set in the prairie states in the summer of 1943. Will Haley, nearly sixteen, takes a summer job with his father’s tractor and combine crew, traveling north from Oklahoma harvesting wheat. Will has to contend with his father’s drinking and a cousin on the crew with an eye for the ladies and a dislike of taking orders. Will’s adventures include a tornado, a nervous visit to a brothel, side trips to the Cheyenne rodeo and Mt. Rushmore, and being shot in the leg by his cousin during a rabbit hunt. Then at their last stop in North Dakota, tragedy strikes, and Will must grow up fast.
Harris is a former US Senator from Oklahoma, and has published two well-received mysteries. He drew on his own teenage experience with traveling harvest crews for this novel. His narrative style has a western storyteller’s deliberate cadence. At first I found it rather one-paced, but the rhythm grew on me. Some of the author’s attempts at settings resemble a travelogue, rather than local color, such as laundry lists of the various buildings in the towns the crew passes through. Will’s character has depth, with his ambition to rise above his farming background and go to college to become a lawyer. I enjoyed this slice of 1940s Plains life.