WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1939 Pulitzer Prize
5 stars - one of the best books ever
I was watching this book creep to the top of my Pulitzer list with a bit of dread. I read it when I was a youngster and remembered one thing only. They kill the deer! Yup! Dead deer. I did not remember any details other than the great sadness that filled me at the time and stuck with me for some 4+ decades.
But now I am all grown up and made of sterner stuff. Right? Besides, my obsession with order demanded that I at least try to read every book on the list, so away I go.
I secured the edition shown above which includes wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, along with thick pages, and a bulk that felt familiar and comfortable.
This is certainly one of the best books I have ever read. The story centers around Jody. A youngster growing up as an only child on a farm in Florida in the late nineteenth century. There is something unique about the writing which makes the story enjoyable for readers of many ages. I'm not sure how the author did that.
What distinguishes this book from many others with similar basics is that the people are happy, content, not all suffering and struggling. Sure, times are hard and food is scarce, but they make due and take extreme pleasure from the beauty of the land around them.
Hunting is a primary source of food and Ms. Rawlings takes us along on many edge of your seat hunts. But Jody's father, Penny has taught him a respect for animals. They never kill more than they can eat and they love and respect the animals and feel a pang when they need to rob them of their lives. They don't ever want an animal to suffer.
But what about the deer? OK, well, Jody is pretty lonely out there all by himself so when he finds an orphan fawn he adopts it, names it Flag, and makes it part of the family. Oh man, does he love that little deer. Flag sleeps in his room with him, wanders the countryside with him, plays with him, and is totally the light of his life.
Bunches of things happen. Dad gets bit by a rattlesnake and almost dies. Some neighbors get into fights. Animals get hunted. You know, stuff like that. Oh, there's also a hurricane. Very bad business.
However.... THEY KILL THE DEER! Yup, because, well, a fawn is one thing. Cute and all, but once Flag grows up he is impossible to keep out of the gardens and if they lose their crop they die and he is so devoted to Jody that he won't go wild and, well, it's a life or death situation and so THEY KILL THE FREAKIN' DEER! Oh have mercy!
And once again, all that happened in the first 350 pages or so suddenly telescoped away from me and I am focused on that moment and I can barely remember everything that went before.
So the deer is dead and Jody is totally messed up over it and dad is getting old and can't take care of things and life is suddenly joyless and Jody runs away from home but then he comes back because what else is he going to do and I'm thinking "I got this, it's OK" except it isn't.
Because in the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last phrase, Ms. Rawlings takes out her knife and twists it in my heart and I am left hollowed out and miserable.
So, yeah, they kill the deer, but read the book anyway. This book is what reading is all about. A wonderful story that is hard to put down, full of real characters, some of whom you'll like, some not so much.