The Johnsons are simple, struggling orange farmers living in the scrub country of Central Florida. Will is the father fighting to survive with his handicapped wife and stepson in tow. Debts are mounting and a rare freeze may kill this season’s crop. Will’s creditors aren’t interested in excuses, they just want to be paid. There’s disagreement among family members about whether a harvest for the orange juice concentrate company is the right business move.
A pair of uninvited — and undesired — house guests suddenly arrive from Alabama. Tom is the white-trash, deadbeat cousin of Will’s wife, and he brought his abused ragamuffin bride Rosanne with him. Of course, Rosanne is a real looker, and the relationship with her domineering husband is super-dysfunctional. Naturally, Will is intrigued by the Alabama girl, especially when compared to his wheelchair-bound shrew of a wife.
A Woman on the Place is a weird novel for Harry Whittington as it doesn’t fit nicely into any of his normal genres. My theory is that in 1956, paperback editions of novels of hardscrabble life in the rural south by Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner and John Faulkner were selling quite well. This was Whittington’s attempt to take a crack at an agrarian melodrama with literary aspirations. As a result, the pacing is really, really slow with none of the noir snappiness readers of his crime-fiction have come to expect.
To be clear, there is a killing and stuff happens, but it was all too boring to generate much interest in the characters’ well-being This is what happens when a writer abandons his strengths and chases the marketplace over originality. Harry Whittington was better than this novel, and you deserve more. Don’t bother.
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