This well-thought-out story collection enjoys a rich setting and tone, fitting together to form a full picture of a town.
With Cadillac, Oklahoma, Louise Farmer Smith has created a literary portrait of a fictional small town, featuring memorable characters whose lives intersect in myriad ways. Smith captures the way family history and local expectations influence these townspeople’s experiences, and she turns those experiences into moving stories.
The book’s structure adds to its appeal. Rather than a linear novel, it consists of more than a dozen short stories. Quite a few of these stories were previously published in national literary magazines, and they still hold up as standalone pieces. But they also fit together to form a fuller picture of the town, with multiple appearances showing characters in different relationships—and the final story in the book effectively brings together several threads into an earned surprise ending. Reading these standalone pieces in order really does turn them into a cohesive novel.
Of course, some of the individual stories stand out. One involves a murder trial with a child suspect and disturbing circumstances that lead to some clever maneuvering by the authorities. Another features a cruel prank between young relatives, born of familial resentment. The drama can be as simple as a couple in a rut pushing off the decision of whether to have children, or as pointed as a prominent citizen found dead with the only witness unwilling to come forward. Smith mixes third-person and first-person narrators, with each of the stories dated to show how they fit in order. Her point-of-view characters feel both distinct from one another and of a common place.
The short “Cadillac Voices” that appear throughout the book—letters submitted to the town’s newspaper by town residents—are a smart recurring device, allowing Smith to make the town itself a character with backstory and context that wouldn’t fit in any individual story but can inform several of them. She even includes a story about how the “Cadillac Voices” begin: as the brainchild of an aspiring columnist. This is typical of the well-thought-out story collection, with a rich setting and tone that can support future books or stories.
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