Sunday, May 17, 2009

47. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd

Book Around the States

Jean Shepherd's humorous story reminded me a great deal of Bill Bryson's book, The Thunderbolt Kid. He tells about Ralph's growing up in a steel town in northern Indiana during the Great Depression. It's hilarious what trouble boys can get into. I really like the format Shepherd used for telling the story. Ralph is visiting his old hometown of Hohman, Indiana to do a story about where he grew up. He feels vaguely superior after living in New York City for many years. When he finds his old friend, Flick, at his bar; they being to reminisce about their younger days. Ralph then tells the story behind each memory. As the afternoon passes, the two become drunker and maybe more maudlin; but it seems like the conversation any couple of friends meeting after many year would have. At first, Shepherd uses the stories to show how right Ralph was in leaving Indiana behind; but towards the end, he becomes more nostalgic for those glory days. I enjoyed reading about simpler times and how people coped with the problems of that depression. They kept on going, continued to have good times, and did the best they could.

This quote reminded me of the stories parents tell of walking to school in snowdrifts up to their waists, uphill both ways. It made me chuckle to picture school kids bundled up in about forty layers of clothing for protection in sub-zero weather: "Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper would be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind."

Ralph's memory of the Christmas he wanted a BB gun was absolutely priceless. I also laughed when 10-year-old Ralph writes a book report for his beautiful teacher, knowing this is the report that will convince her that Ralph is her one and only. The book is the one he finds on his parents' nightstand and is more than a little racy. Of course, in that era, a ten-year-old boy has no idea what he just read. And the blind date story that Ralph grudgingly agrees to go on to help out his friend. The girl turns out to be gorgeous, and Ralph talks incessantly in an effort to impress her. At the end he realizes that he is actually the blind date. Good times.

Rating: 4


  1. Someone recommended this to me the other day when I mentioned being interested in depression-era books. I want to read it even more after your review!

  2. Glad you enjoyed this. I did too! The Thuderbolt Kid is on my tbr list. I love these 'good ol' days' kind of memoirs!

  3. This sounds hilarious! I definitely want to read it now.

  4. Sounds really good. I'm going to memorize that quote and use the next time the uphill-both-ways conversation comes up. Don't you think the kids will get a good laugh.

  5. Every year I tell myself I need to read this book. A Christmas Story is one of my favorite holiday movies. Thanks for the great review. I have put it on my list of books to read in December.

  6. I never heard of this one, but I enjoyed your review.

  7. The Christmas Story was a walk down memory lane for my husband and me. A few years after we first saw The Christmas Story we saw another movie about Ralphie and Flick when they were teens. We only saw it on television that one time. I have searched the internet for the sequel, but have not found it. Do any of you recall the movie and its name?