Scenes from the Heartland: Stories Based on Lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton by Donna Baier Stein

Scenes from the Heartland: Stories Based on Lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton by Donna Baier Stein
Publisher: Serving House Books
Genre: Historical, anthology
Length: Short story (142 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

When a contemporary writer turns her imagination loose inside the images of an iconic artist of the past, the result is storytelling magic at its best. Here are nine tales that bring to vivid life the early decades of the 20th century as witnessed by one of America’s most well-known painters. Thomas Hart Benton sketched fiddlers and farm wives, preachers and soldiers, folks gathering in dance halls and tent meetings. Though his lithographs depict the past, the real-life people he portrayed face issues that are front and center today: corruption, women’s rights, racial inequality.

In these stories we enter the imagined lives of Midwesterners in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A mysterious woman dancing to fiddle music makes one small gesture of kindness that helps heal the rift of racial tensions in her small town. A man leaves his childhood home after a tragic accident and becomes involved with the big-time gamblers who have made Hot Springs, Arkansas, their summer playground. After watching her mother being sent to an insane asylum simply for grieving over a miscarriage, a girl determines to never let any man have any say over her body.

Then as now, Americans have struggled with poverty, illness, and betrayal. These fictions reveal our fellow countrymen and women living with grace and strong leanings toward virtue, despite the troubles that face them.

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One story is about a schoolteacher who doesn’t approve of the woman chosen for bible classes. When both their boys go on mission to save the ones flooding, they both have more to worry about.

If you were black, you could be beaten up and killed and no one cared. The poor fiddler knew that but folks liked his playing and usually left him alone…

You feel the anguish of the mother watching her son go off to war. Ms. Stein’s words are concise and earthy. You feel the emotions of the characters.

She makes you feel the fear of a woman who thinks she might lose her husband to another woman. There are several stories about young girl’s and their emotions. You can relate to their fears and anxieties.

The story that was the most poignant was the one where the father lost his hands and his lower arms in a piece of farm equipment. He keeps on with metal hooks but there is a final confrontation at the end of the story. You won’t forget that one easily.

All the stories are down to earth and have the feeling of family history being shared. What you read will stick with you long after you put the book down.

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