“Will was convinced that winter semester at Dartmouth was good for only two indoor activities: studying and playing pool. Well, maybe a third, but in Will’s limited time on campus, he was still working on the third indoor activity.’ It’s no wonder you guys are such good students up here,’ Will was known to say. ‘These winters drive everyone inside. It’s so dammed cold that no one has anything else to do except either drink or study.'”
Oh to be twelve again, time filled with baseball, cottages, pizza for all three meals of the day without the worry of gaining weight. Arcades, no-sleep sleep over’s, roller coasters with friends and family, biking off the beaten path; without a doubt these are the times of your life where you feel most free. For main character Wilbur (given name) Jordan (surname) his childhood was very much like most kids, but the one thing that he remembers most is where he spent it. Will (that’s better) Jordan is a good ol’ boy never meaning no harm with southern charm and a family that has a foundation built on living life and hospitality. Throughout his youth his main enjoyment came from the baseball field as well as the farm fields of his Uncle John. The ball diamond is where he learned how to be a team mate, the farm is where he learned how to be a kid, and his Uncle John was the type of man he aspired to be.
This is a story of a reunion with the past and a reclamation of home long since passed. In light of this I would like to start my review by reuniting with my processes of how I would start my school essays as a young adult. Always having a hard time starting my writing assignments I would always initiate the reader with an Oxford English Dictionary entry of a thematic word important to the delivery of my essays. For Return to Tobacco Road I found the most striking word for me was partner. Plenty of people are put off at the thought of marriage being regarded as a business agreement, but for all of the romance there are also legal and financial ramifications that must be considered. The Oxford English Dictionary defines partner as a person who takes part in an undertaking with another, especially in situations with shared risks and gains.
At a time when romance was bliss, Will Jordan was more than compliant with his wife’s demands in living approximately 800 miles from his childhood home in order to maintain a symbiosis desired by his wife Catherine Key. Will is not your typical Ivy League business graduate, he had no preconceived aspirations like his peers who intended on “taking over” Wallstreet, establishing hedge fund management groups, or private equity firms. His intention was higher-learning and pursuing a job in Finance, anything or anyone that came in between was fair play. Insert Catherine Key. Cat at first breath is a very mature, witty, beautiful, smart, and career-conscious young woman that is not controlled by parental expectations. In some ways Will and Cat were mirror images and had designs of an ever-lasting love affair. The big difference that eventually comes up later in their relationship is how they were reared as children, how they were nurtured as adults and the ability to come to terms with a new reality. Twenty-two years later Will needs a little marital reciprocation or shall we say, a scratching of the back. Will, now a highly-regarded figure in Business Valuation and leader in Mergers and Acquisitions for Liberty Capital in Boston is at a crossroads in his life. Long gone is his southern twang as he is now a north east Yankee with a Bostonian accent. The idyllic childhood setting of Winfield Farms and White Lake now feels like a figment of his imagination, fate, however gives him a second chance as Will must go back “home” for the funeral of his beloved Uncle John. While in North Carolina long lost memories come flooding back and false promises gather a guilt that he feels must be addressed.
“Will refused to look at the black hearse as he walked toward the porch. As far as he was concerned, Will held firm to the premise that he was still eleven years old, and he was here to visit Uncle John and his cousins. He imagined him and Clay walking into the house, and Uncle John, flanked by the cousins, acknowledging their arrival with a big bear hug. Then, Nanny would emerge from the kitchen into the living room and welcome her grandchildren with hugs and kisses.”
This is as much a story as you will ever read, particularly linear there are no smoke and mirrors, no deep focus is required, no tricks, a few twists with a few turns. Throughout the book there are consistent moments of Will questioning fate and the resistance of altering life’s path. With respect to the main figures of the book, I found it quite funny how I personally didn’t really like Will or Cat. In the beginning Cat strikes me as a woman that I would find very intriguing, it is alarming to see how losing your occupational prospective and having a lack of quality time with your husband can slowly but surely whittle away from your natural self. Will comes across as a very typical guy growing up, nothing out of the ordinary so I won’t discredit him in any way for that. However; as a father and husband there are ways to handle being an absentee figure outside of padding pockets. One interesting aspect I found was how at times when Will perceived the readers would like him, he came across as immature or even ingratiating when he was communicating with other character’s. There was also a time when he was visiting campuses with his daughters where as a sympathetic person I would have done much more to show the love I feel and how much they mean to me instead of occupying the kiss & ride lane. When Will is about to leave for a few weeks you can feel the emotions building, but as he is getting in the car he simply says “I love you” and “be good to your mom”. It comes across as anti-climatic and a lost opportunity for strengthening their relationship, but I have to give the daughters a lot of credit for being strong despite their circumstances. For the most part you feel that Will’s heart is in the right place he just goes about his ways with an air of selfishness.
This book is very long and goes into great detail on somewhat mundane events. There is a distinct feeling of “day in the life of…” or a “this is your life” type narrative, unfortunately most people have days that are predominantly nothing to write home about so some of the content in this book is prolonged. The strongest points of the novel were the characterization of the settings and the historical content of North Carolina and how tobacco farming during the 20th century was regarded as rite of passage for all pre-teens. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a comfortable read filled with regional history, relationship dynamics and suspense.
“‘I think that’s a big part of it,’ Will shared.” I look at where I am in life, and maybe I accomplished a few things, but I’ve moved a thousand miles from home to get there. Is it really worth it? I’ve abandoned my Southern roots and became one of them.'”