Reviewed by Krista Castner

M. Glenn Taylor’s new book, The Marrowbone Marble Company, illustrates the struggles ordinary people faced as they navigated three very tumultuous mid 20th century decades. Set between WWII and the end of the 1960’s, The Marrowbone Marble Company highlights an era in US history that was fraught with violence and social upheaval.

Most of the story takes place in rural West Virginia with some graphic WWII war scenes. Loyal Ledford, the book’s main protagonist, was orphaned at thirteen. He began working at the Mann Glass factory straight out of high school. While working at Mann, he began dating the boss’s daughter, Rachel. Then Pearl Harbor was bombed. Ledford enlisted in the Marines and was sent to Guadalcanal; he came back with both physical and psychological wounds. Today we’d recognize him as suffering from PTSD. To alleviate the horrors of war he climbed inside a bottle of whiskey.

The rest of the book chronicles Ledford’s fight to recover from his war experiences and his drive to build something better for himself, his children and his community. Ledford has a dream in which he is instructed to start a factory that makes glass marbles. He contacts some of his father’s distant relatives, Dimple and Wimpy Bonecutter, and they agree to let him use their land to build his factory and to start a desegregated community. The land is in a remote valley named Marrowbone Cut, and the new factory is named “The Marrowbone Marble Company”.

This is a story about discrimination at many different levels. It illustrated the ugliness of segregation and the threat of violence that lurked just below the surface of a very thin social veneer. There are villains who didn’t change a bit during the story, and characters that started out pretty nasty but changed their point of view as a non-violent approach to desegregation began to change the social fabric.

[amazonify]006192394X[/amazonify]One of the weaknesses of the book for me is that some key characters aren’t featured enough. Mack Wells is a black man who was an engineer in WWII and lived in a desegregated army unit. He and his family joined Ledford’s family as the first members of the new integrated community, but as the story unfolds we only see him as a peripheral character.

Ledford’s and Well’s wives were both main characters at the beginning of the book. By the end they’d faded to helpers who set out food at community gatherings and sat by hospital beds. How did they feel when their children risked their lives to participate in Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery? There was a whole plotline involving, Erm, a war buddy of Ledford’s that I thought didn’t add anything to the main story.

Since I’ve finished The Marrowbone Marble Company, I’ve found myself wondering what the people in the story might have chosen to do after my view into their lives ended. To me it’s a sign of a successful story when you care about what happens to the characters even after you finish the book they were featured in.

Rating: 3.5/5

Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Ecco. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.