Peculiar Savage Beauty

Written by Jessica McCann
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Rosa Jean Evans – she prefers “RJ” – was a reluctant eyewitness to one of America’s great disasters when her parents died in 1918 of influenza. In 1934, a brand-new masters’ degree in geology in hand, RJ experiences another national calamity even before she takes up her post for the federal Soil Conservation Service. On her way to Vanham, Kansas, she is forced to take shelter under her Model AA as a storm-borne cloud of powdery topsoil buries the region under dunes of black dust.

RJ tries to persuade farmers to use different ways of tilling their fields to combat drought, and to plant cover crops so windstorms won’t blow their soil away, but as a young woman in a “man’s” profession, she has a real uphill battle with Vanham’s farmers. Most are amused or contemptuous, but a few begin to listen. RJ finds an ally in Woody Parker, an autistic young man who proves a valuable assistant and friend.

Jessica McCann has done a terrific job of portraying life in the Dust Bowl in Peculiar Savage Beauty, especially the billowing dust clouds which turn day to choking night, and the stubborn, inventive farmers who sometimes have trouble believing that a woman can do a man’s job. Lastly, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a love story with a tender twist. I really enjoyed this story end to end, and you will, too.