“Return to Hardscrabble Road” by George Weinstein

Return to Hardscrabble Road by George Weinstein takes the reader back to the rural South Georgia world inhabited by the characters of Hardscrabble Road. Shortly after World War II, the MacLeod brothers have returned to their homeplace as the result of a new crisis: the shooting death of their father Mance.

Readers who eschew violence may wish to sidestep this fast-paced novel, which includes beatings, kidnappings, and all manner of coercion, threat, and even attempted murder by gunslinging thugs and their victims. Add verbal abuse, a suicide, a stabbing, a near-drowning, bootlegging, blackmail, forced eviction, the intentional burning of a house and the occupants of a car, and the use of a vehicle to run someone over—you get enough vicious and depraved behavior over the course of the story’s few days to fill three novels.

At a certain point, though, the well-crafted prose becomes parody, and the reader keeps turning pages to see what madness comes next. Comic relief is injected via colloquialisms like this one: “The lady living there is touched in the head.” Rural Southern dialect like “I mighta done” and “I best not catch your brothers cheaping out like such,” breaks the tension. So does a front-yard goat made of rusty coffee cans.

Quirky characters, too, add to the surreal mix in entertaining and unexpected ways. One, a fortune-teller and mind-reader named Posey has a profound impact on Roger’s girlfriend and, tangentially, on Roger.

The novel’s backbone is not its action or language or the influence of minor characters, however; it is the protagonist, Roger MacLeod. The youngest of the three brothers, his face marked by a large port-wine birthmark, Roger exhibits understandable insecurity. Sometimes scared, occasionally stammering, and often second-guessing himself, his openness and vulnerability draw the reader protectively close. We want to know he’s going to emerge in one piece.

Accompanied by his siblings and girlfriend, Roger negotiates a desperate landscape of danger as he keeps “playing God, deciding what’s best for everybody.” In particular, he seeks to help his mother Reva and sister Darlene who face the threat of a diabolical duo: Harvey and Rutha, the siblings of Mance MacLeod.

Roger’s loyalty to the mother who once gave him away is initially perplexing. By the end of the tale, though, Reva emerges as strangely appealing. Despite her inconsistency, bigotry, and self-serving focus, she displays unflinching courage in the face of monumental menace. Her loyalty to her own path anchors those around her in an unforeseen way. It becomes laughable that Roger ever imagined his mother needed his protection.

What Roger needs is better self-understanding, and it comes, incrementally, over the course of the novel. The reader is left satisfied that Roger MacLeod is going to beat the odds. He has a fighting chance of reaching true maturity, with the potential of lasting happiness.

Weinstein is the author of several other novels, including the kidnapping thriller, Watch What You Say (2019) and the murder mystery, Aftermath (2018).  He serves as the Executive Director of the Atlantic Writers Club (founded in 1914) and directs its Atlanta Writers Conference. A lifelong writer who began with superhero plays, Weinstein originated in Laurel, Maryland. He now lives with his family in Marietta, Georgia. More about George Weinstein is found on his website, www.georgeweinstein.com.

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