By Rilla Askew
University of Oklahoma Press, Hardcover, 9780806138237, 243pp.
Publication Date: May 15, 2007
Harlan Singer, a harmonica-playing troubadour, shows up in the Thompson family's yard one morning. He steals their hearts with his music, and their daughter with his charm. Soon he and his fourteen-year-old bride, Sharon, are on the road, two more hobos of the Great Depression, hitchhiking and hopping freights across the Great Plains in search of an old man and the settlement of Harlan's long-standing debt.
Finding shelter in hobo jungles and Hoovervilles, the newlyweds careen across the 1930s landscape in a giant figure eight with Oklahoma in the middle. Sharon's growing doubts about her husband's quest set in motion events that turn Harlan Singer into a hero while blinding her to the dark secret of his journey. A love story infused with history and folk tradition, "Harpsong" shows what happened to the friends and neighbors Steinbeck's Joads left behind.
In this moving, redemptive tale inspired by Oklahoma folk heroes, Rilla Askew continues her exploration of the American story. "Harpsong" is a novel of love and loss, of adventure and renewal, and of a wayfaring orphan's search for home all set to the sounds of Harlan's harmonica. It shows us the strength and resilience of a people who, in the face of unending despair, maintain their faith in the land.