"I still don't know why you're doing this, Yates."
"It's payback time, Andy."
These quotes from MOTHER ROAD, which appear near the end of the first chapter, sum up the motivation behind future action taken by its protagonist, known simply as Yates. Much of Dorothy Garlock's book deals with question marks about his past. But Yates admits his reason for staying in Sayre, Oklahoma during the depression era: to help Andy Connors's family. Andy has been bitten by a rabid skunk and must undergo treatment in Oklahoma City for four to six weeks.
Leona Dawson, Andy's sister-in-law, cares for his two young daughters after the death of their mother, her sister. She refuses to marry Andy to stop tongues wagging in the rural community. There is mutual "like" between the two but not the type of love found in a marriage. Leona comes with baggage from her past in the form of an extreme fundamentalist Christian brother, Virgil. He is the epitome of an evil antagonist and depends on Sheriff's Deputy Wayne Ham to back him up in his quest to remove the two little girls from Leona's care at Andy's.
Andy's garage and gas station is the center of action in MOTHER ROAD. Its location is on the famous Route 66 central highway across the southwest to California. Garlock gives an accurate picture of life in the dustbowl days of Oklahoma. She imparts a sense of danger when evildoers work to shatter peace and quiet in a small town, changing when the new highway segment opens. Bootleggers and highwaymen threaten serenity, but MOTHER ROAD's most serious trouble comes from town and family bigotry.
Leona and Yates begin their acquaintance with misconceptions. To him, she is a plain girl, brimming with spit and vinegar. She's tough when confronted and gentle with Andy's girls. For her, Yates is a mysterious stranger who has invaded their lives and is her object of contention. Much of her fear is rooted in her distrust. Garlock uses a volume of words to illustrate Leona's feelings. At times, the fear factor and insecurity overshadow the romance.
Virgil's self-righteous personality looms as a constant threat to the family. His own wife and children are objects of his brutality. When diphtheria strikes his son, Virgil sees it as God's will. A subplot unfolds when his anger affects the entire community. Yates comes to terms with denials stemming from his background before the story's end. Major characters confront their demons and accept changes in their lives.
MOTHER ROAD is a colorful personalization of a highway and the people who work and play along its byways. Garlock captures the work ethic and spirit of Americans during the Depression years with understanding. MOTHER ROAD is a novel of tribute to the common men and women of that era.
--- Reviewed by Judy Gigstad