From My Bookshelf: Watershed

From My Bookshelf

By Lynn Willoughby

Watershed ~ Mark Barr

Money from Roosevelt’s New Deal Program meant building dams which would supply electricity to rural area. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 transformed the lives of millions of Americans. This is a novel, based on facts, about a rural area of Tennessee, near Memphis in 1937.  It is the story of the engineers, secretaries, laborours, shysters, those who ran boarding houses and those who provided entertainment – whether prostitutes or those who bred fighting dogs.

The protagonist is Nathan, a young engineer hiding from his past. He is terrified the project manager of the dam will find out he is using an assumed name and fire him. Nathan believes this is his final chance to regain his reputation and move forward with his life, but in the boarding house are others who want him to fail. One man thinks he should know Nathan, and as a result, Nathan keeps to himself, works into the night, avoids drinking with the other men – always afraid he will betray himself.

Claire is recovering from a severe illness in her aunt’s boardinghouse. She has left her husband, her mother is caring for her children. When she has recovered, Hull, the agent who is trying to sign up the locals to pay for and receive electricity, asks her if she will work with him. She knows the area, the roads and trails, the people. She can explain to those who are frightened and opposed to get this new electricity thing.

Claire finds a new freedom. She is making money and independent for the first time in her life. And she likes it.

This is a debut novel and the author’s prose is mesmerizing. I felt like I was on location at the dam site, that I had a stake in building it, and in the future of the locals, their lives with electricity. It left me wanting more at the conclusion.  

Who Knew?

Rural Electrification Act crews developed a new 7200 volt distribution network which could support runs of electricity up to forty miles. Previous voltage could only be carried for about four miles, and only worked in cities.