What the Thunder Said
A Novella and Stories
By Janet Peery
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312252632, 320pp.)
Publication Date: March 6, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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What the Thunder Said is the 2008 winner of the WILLA Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction. In the Dust Bowl of 1930s Oklahoma, a family comes apart, as sisters Mackie and Etta Spoon keep secrets from their father, and from each other.
Etta, the dangerously impulsive favorite of her father, longs for adventure someplace far away from the bleak and near-barren plains, and she doesn’t care how she gets there; watchful Mackie keeps house and obeys the letter of her father’s law, while harboring her own dreams. After the massive 1935 Black Sunday dust storm brings ruin to the family, the sisters’ conflict threatens further damage. Seeking escape, and wagering their futures on an Indian boarding school runaway named Audie Kipp, the two leave home to forge their own separate paths, each setting off in search of a new life, each finding a fate different than she expected.
Through shifting perspectives, voices, and characters, What the Thunder Said tracks their wayward progress, following the sisters, their children, and those whose stories intersect with theirs as they range across the high plains of the West in the decades after the Great Depression. Etta’s hitchhiking encounter with a bookish couple in the Garden of the Gods; a prairie jackrabbit drive, during which Mackie’s son, Jesse, discovers the cloth he’s cut from; an old man’s failing memory as he tells of spying on an Indian loner on the outskirts of a Kansas town; a middle-aged doctor’s chance meeting with a mysterious wayfarer while on a quest to New Mexico in search of his lost youth; and Mackie’s late reconciliation with her aged father, whose habit of silence has bred her own---all are rendered in vivid prose that captures the plains and the people who endured devastation and lived to look back on it.
Slow-gathering, powerful, with passages of haunting beauty, What the Thunder Said is the long-awaited third work of fiction by one of our most acclaimed storytellers.
National Book Award finalist Janet Peery is the author of The River Beyond the World and the story collection Alligator Dance. She has received National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, a Whiting Writers Award, and the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her short stories have been widely published. A native of Kansas, she now lives in Virginia.
"What the Thunder Said is sublime: deep and rich and risky and complicated. Peery's characters span age and gender and type, but whether privileged or pocked, they all face some sort of exile, and Peery's compassion for the flawed and noble alike illustrates her fine understanding of human nature. You can't write like this unless you have a big and worn-in heart."
--Sheri Reynolds, author of Firefly Cloak and The Rapture of Canaan "Anyone who has tried to farm the hardpan of fiction knows, on looking up, stunned, from the center of any paragraph of her prose, that Peery has never, ever, been a new writer. Like most sudden sensations, she would probably tell us that she has been working this soil for much of her life. Her fiction, anyway, declares it. I cannot imagine a physical or psychological moment she cannot create with authority, permanence, and wisdom."
--- Frederick Busch, author of Rescue Missions, North, and The Night Inspector