The Oxygen Man
Ned and Daze Rose live in the home where they grew up. Their parents have died and they barely talk except to take care of housekeeping. Ned works nights for their neighbor, Mack Bell, who owned a farm where he raised catfish, his main crop, and cotton. Ned and Mack had gone to high school together, but Ned knows his place.
They live in Indianola, Missippi, a small town in the Delta with all the intrigues of a small town. Ned and Daze's parents owned a small house on the edge of the river. Daddy was usually gone for work for weeks at a time. Momma worked at the 7-11 or was out more than she was home. The brother and sister knew their parents. So did everyone in town.
The Rose household wasn't easy to live in, nor was it usually a happy one. The siblings were able to go to a private, segregated high school in the 1970's due to the "scholarships" available through the wealthy white men in town. The one area was Ned excelled was on the football. There he was almost accepted, although all the other guys, especially Mack, knew he was the poor relative. His anger eventually leads to unexpected results.
Now, twenty years later, the patterns are set in their lives. Ned works for Mack. Daze works in the local trucker restaurant/bar. They co-exist but barely recognize each other's presence except in arguements. There is trouble on Mack's farm. Someone is sabotaging the lakes and equipment. Mack is certain it is one of his black workers. He wants Ned to help him find the troublemaker.
There are many books where the hero has overcome his past life to succeed in great things. The Oxygen Man is one where the heros give in to their upbringing and don't try to change things, except possibly for the worse. The novel goes between 1996 and 1972, giving the reader a picture of their current life and a look at what shaped Ned and Daze in high school.
There are many different threads in this book. One obvious story line is the racism that was blatant in the 1970's and the less obvious, still malevolent racism of the mid-1990's in this Mississippi town. Another is the Rose parents, their lives, and how they affected their two children. There was no hiding what Momma did or why Daddy stayed away so much. There is the story of the rich versus the poor. The only way, even in high school, for them to interact was for one to be subservient to the other.
The explosive situations that are simmering throughout this book lead to an unexpected (at least to me) ending. Steve Yarbrough has written a book with many layers that made the reader think and ponder what makes people the way they are. Are we always a victim of our births and circumstance? Can we change? Who really deserves a good life versus a hard life? The Oxygen Man doesn't answer those questions. It just gives us a chance to consider them.
Notice: Non-graphic violence, Suggestive dialogue or situations
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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