Catharine Leggett’s debut novel The Way to Go Home (2019, Urban Farmhouse Press) is an aspiring one, and it comes on the heels of her fine short story collection, In Progress. While I enjoyed that book, I was anticipating how good a full-length novel by Ms. Leggett might be. At a little over 370 pages, it is a far cry from the short-story length, yet the essence of her mature writing style has remained intact, I am happy to say.
**I’m going to state at this point you may find some plot spoilers, so you may want to skip to the conclusion.
The Way to Go Home (TWTGH) is primarily the story of Buddy Scott, one of nine Scott children born in Wyoming in the early 1900s. Buddy is the second oldest son, the oldest being Ray. Within a matter of days, they find themselves orphans, their father dying first of Typhoid fever, the mother in childbirth on the kitchen table. Since Ray is not yet an adult, the children are farmed out to others in the rural community, and many never see each other again. Ray and Buddy get taken in by their Uncle Wes and Aunt Gabby. In the following excerpt, Buddy reflects on his parents as he and Ray are on their way to Uncle Wes’ ranch:
Buddy sat in the back with Ray and hugged his legs, his chin to his chest. By the time they got to Wes’s farm the wind had blown up stronger, roughed through with ice pellets. Ray’s lips were blue with cold and his teeth chattered. Buddy knew coldness; he’d known it over and over again, but this was something more than the weather. It had to do with thinness inside his heart. Weak and bloodless, it felt like it wanted to quit. His anchor, his father, at times stern and distant and always in control, at others full of fun and mischief—his life’s teacher, gone. His beloved mother, soft with a heart full of kindness and caring, firm when she had to be; loving, fun. the heart of a lamb—also gone. And now all the rest of his family gone too, except Ray. who sat huddled beside him as miserable and angry as anyone could be. And the ranch with all the creatures, all the horses there all his life like his family, gone too. Nothing to replace any of them.
From this point on, the two determine to escape the clutches of the meanest man around and Ray decides he wants to get to New York City. Of course, they have little idea of where they are in the US in relation to the east coast, so they strike out in an easterly direction. Upon the way, they fall in with a troupe of hobos, ride the rails, hitchhike and walk until they reach the “Big City”. But all is not as it seems. However, serendipity is on their side.
I should state that Ray and Buddy’s story is preceded by an incident that happens to Buddy in the present time of 1973. While out horseback riding with his adult daughter Carolyn, he speeds ahead on Spirit, his mount and gets thrown and dragged, his one foot caught in the stirrup until he comes free, but the damage has been done and Buddy cannot move and lies under a tree, a broken man. While he awaits help, he reminisces back on his life to this point. Buddy is a natural storyteller and many of the chapters are his most-told stories come to life. So the entire book is a sort of shifting back and forth from 1973 to the year of a story (his “In the West” stories) that is brought to Buddy’s mind as he lays there under the watchful eye of Spirit. (Horses figure prominently in the TWTGH as the Scott family had several and Buddy states that “he’s never met a horse he didn’t like.”)
I highly enjoyed this novel, and as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Leggett has a mature writing style making TWTGH a literary-historical-fiction-travelogue type of read. In this sense, it recalled to mind Eric Dupont’s Songs for the Cold of Heart; there is always something occurring (good or bad, amusing or dark) and many likeable characters. Buddy has a little problem with alcohol and a roving eye, but he loves his family (at least in his mind) but when he’s with them is unsure of himself, particularly as the children get older. His beloved wife Meg is no longer the fun-loving woman he married. Buddy has secrets, and that may contribute to his drinking, as it does to his versions of his oft-told stories of growing up “In the West”. A recommended read for those that enjoy time-shifting stories full of adventures, escapades, family and the realities of growing up— and growing old.
The Way to Go Home by Catharine Leggett
Urban Farmhouse Press
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