Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Review - The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters

When I began reading the The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, my first thought was "oh no, not another father/son story told when one of them (in this case the son) is looking back on his life." Despite the fact that one of my goals is to read the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, I was afraid that this would be another slow read similar to several other books I've read this year.

However, I was pleasantly surprised with this 1959 Pulitzer Prize winner. The story is told from 13-year-old Jaimie's viewpoint as he journeys west from Kentucky with his father in the mid-1800s. They are headed to California to find their fortune in the Gold Rush. The story is straightforward and often shows Jaimie's innocence as well as his growth over time. His story is interspersed with letters from his father to his mother. These letters have more superfluous wording and often portray a much more optimistic tale than the actual reality of the difficult trip because he does  not want to cause his wife (Jaimie's mother) undue worry. However, Dr. McPheeters also kept a journal that more accurately reflected the trials and hardships that the wagon train encountered. Some of those journal entries are scattered throughout the book also.

I enjoyed this book tremendously, despite the fact that some of Jaimie's tales are somewhat unbelievable at times (possibly because they were slightly exaggerated in his re-telling of them!).  Jaimie not only falls overboard and is thought to be dead, but he's also captured by Indians and held as ransom by a band of outlaws. There are several "coincidences" (like running into the same characters at various points along the trail) that help move the story along. The winter months that they spend with their traveling companions (the Kissel family, Jennie, and Mr. Coe) in Salt Lake City are filled with rather strange (and sometimes hilarious) events that reveal many peculiarities of the polygomastic Mormons of that time.

Overall, the story is well told and entertaining. In many ways it reminded me of The Way West, the 1950 Pulitzer prize winner (which I reviewed here), because of the similar experiences and locales along the westward trails. I would recommend both of these books for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

If you've been keeping up with my book reviews this year, you may have noticed that for the most part, I've either really enjoyed or really NOT enjoyed the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners. After my somewhat unfavorable review of The ReiversCheri commented ... It was the style to use lots of BIG descriptive words I guess. Makes you wonder, however, about the criteria for judging Pulitzer Prize winners.

I did a little research and found this information on the Pulitzer Prize FAQ page: 
6. What are the criteria for the judging of The Pulitzer Prizes?
There are no set criteria for the judging of the Prizes. The definitions of each category ... are the only guidelines. It is left up to the Nominating Juries and The Pulitzer Prize Board to determine exactly what makes a work "distinguished."

Here's the definition for the Fiction category:
Books first published in the United States during (the award year). All entries must be made available for purchase by the general public in either hardcover or bound paperback book form. In the Fiction category, authors must be United States citizens. 

Obviously the awarding of these prizes is very subjective!

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