07 Feb Historical Novel: Last Laugh by Beth Tally
Historical Novel with a Clever Plot Leaves us Wanting More
When remembering the Viet Nam era, anybody of college age in the sixties, would have a personal story to tell about the dreaded military draft. In Last Laugh, Beth Tally takes one of these stories and crafts it into a historical novel with a clever plot. Like her male protagonist,Tommy Moore, she similarly lures us on and leaves us just where she wants us to be at the end–wanting more.
Tommy is the Bad Boy We Know We Should Hate, but Simply Can’t
Though he’s the scion of a wealthy Greenville family whose fortune lies in peach orchards, Thomas Mason Moore is an anti-hero. He’s also an opportunist and a Lothario. As a result, the Citadel dismisses him for rebellious behavior. However, the author does not depict him as a one-dimensional character.
Rather, she reveals that Tommy’s reckless behavior with women is born of an anger to get back at his father, who has relentlessly bullied and belittled his son throughout Tommy’s life. But no matter how conniving and manipulative Tommy becomes, the author allows us to sympathize with him. Through the dialogue of characters like Bertha, the Moore’s faithful black cook, we see a different side of Tommy. After all, Bertha probably knows him best.
In her eyes she saw the little devil he’d always been; in her mind, she routinely rationalized his behavior; in her heart, she always forgave him. As long as any excuse he might give her had a shred of plausibility, she took it as truth.
Undoubtedly, it’s Tommy’s careless disposal of the array of women he lures to bed that predictably shocks the reader. However, not so predictably, the reader is no more immune to Tommy’s charms than the waitresses he cozies up to in all the joints he frequents. Tommy is the bad boy we know we should hate, but simply can’t.
Iris is Consumed with Escaping the World of the Baptist Church, Nehi Sodas and Potato Chips
On the other hand, Iris Rose McGraw, the female protagonist, grew up on the west side of town in the McAlister Mill village. Her overriding goal now that she has graduated from high school is “…to spread these wings and fly…” away from the only world she had known.
She found herself consumed in the almost desperate exercise of plotting her escape from this world, the only one she’d ever known, bounded by three eight-hour shifts at the mill, the Girls Auxiliary at the Baptist church, Nehi sodas and potato chips at the company store, and people like Warren and her parents.
A Chance Meeting Brings Tommy and Iris Together
The story begins with a random chance meeting when Tommy and Iris come together in the waiting room of the Greenville General Hospital. Above all, it’s Tommy’s blue eyes and uniform that draw Iris’s attention the moment she sees him. Likewise, Iris’s natural beauty instantly attracts Tommy, and he views her as his next conquest. When Tommy learns of his expulsion from the Citadel, he becomes vulnerable to the draft. At this point, Iris begins to figure more prominently into his plan to qualify for a deferment.
On the other hand, Iris initially sees Tommy as an exciting diversion. Now, she begins to wonder if he may also provide her with her wings to fly away from the only life she’s ever known.
The Author Draws from Her Own Sense of Place and Love for its Surroundings
The author sets the story in her native town of Greenville, South Carolina. Additionally, she provides vivid descriptions of the landscape drawn from her own sense of place and love for its surroundings:
Paris Mountain rose in the background, catching the pinkish radiance of the setting sun whose languid downward drift in the west gave an intriguing pattern of shadows to the vision, connecting the hundreds of peach trees together in parallel lines as the image of each merged into the next momentarily. Within a minute, the sun’s slightly further descent caused a burst of light to ricochet off the patio windows of the main house, changing the whole landscape.
An Historical Novel You Won’t Want to Miss!
Finally, in writing this historical novel of the sixties, Beth Tally combines a clever plot with believable characters and vivid setting. The results: an engaging and satisfying story that makes Last Laugh a good read and a book you don’t want to miss!