Every life is a story in itself. The author, Shirley McLain, proves this with her historical fiction novel Dobyns Chronicles.
Charley Dobyns began his life in northeast Texas, on the Red River. His cowboy father and his Cherokee mother worked hard to provide for Charley and his two younger siblings, David and Viola. In 1888 tragedy struck. Both of his parents died from yellow fever. At the age of sixteen, Charley was the head of the family. His brother was only ten and his sister four. He moved the family to the Chickasaw Territory to stay with friends of the family. The death of their parents and the move changed all of their lives, and it was up to Charley to hold the family together.
This historical fiction novel will tug on the reader’s heart strings. Life is never easy and back then, before cell phones, medical advances, and all the other things we take for granted today, it was much harder. Especially when things take a sudden turn. Charley, no matter what, always put his family first. When his parents died of yellow fever he became the head of the family at the age of sixteen. Many young men would have cracked under this much pressure. Charley rose to the occasion repeatedly. He’s the type of character that readers are enchanted with. Strong, loving, decent, and humorous. It’s hard to imagine any reader not liking him. And even harder to imagine a reader not cheering him on.
McLain does an excellent job of pulling the reader into Charley’s life. She chronicles many of the turning points in his life, and some of those life altering events will make the reader gasp, cry, or both.
This novel is character driven. There’s not a lot of description and the author relies on the characters’ thoughts and dialogue to keep the reader engaged in the story. The writing, like the main character, is simple and honest.
For the most part, the pacing of the novel is right on. Until the reader nears the end. All of a sudden McLain starts throwing so many names and events at the reader it’s nearly impossible to keep up. It’s like she wanted to finish the story in a certain amount of words, no matter what. The majority of the novel takes it’s time following Charley through his trials and tribulation, keeping the reader’s interest. The final pages rush through the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and even a murder. This segment is baffling and makes the reader wonder if the author lost interest in Charley’s life, but felt compelled to tell the rest quickly. It may have been better to end the novel earlier and then after some time, continue with the story in a second book or just include the final aspects of his life in a note from the author at the back of the book.
All in all, people who love historical fiction about ordinary folks who overcome great odds will enjoy getting to know Charley Dobyns and his family.