Donna Meridith of Southern Literary Review recently interviewed Hardscrabble Road author George Weinstein.
DM: I read this novel right after finishing The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig. A struggling rural family and community stand at the center of Doig’s novel and yours. Yet they couldn’t be more different. The adults in Hardscrabble Road have a severe deficiency of parenting skills. Many types of abuse occur in this novel, from physical beatings to parents making fun of a child’s stuttering to husbands and wives cheating on each other. What motivated you to create the MacLeod family?
GW: In the Acknowledgments, I credit my father-in-law, Vernon McDonald, for the sense of time and place he gave me through countless stories about his upbringing outside Colquitt, Georgia during the Depression and war years. Hardscrabble Road was inspired by the trials that he and his two brothers endured. While much in the book is fictional, the circumstances in which Roger “Bud” MacLeod lives–hateful father, callous mother, supportive brothers, and privileged sister, all living sharecroppers’ lives–mirrored Vernon’s childhood. It’s not a memoir because I invented much of what happens and most of the characters. I suspect that Vernon’s actual growing up was worse than depicted, as he often commented during his tale-telling that I was hearing the “PG-rated” version of his childhood. The novel is a testimony to perseverance and the strength of character that can be forged under severe conditions. What inspired me to write the book in the first place—and what motivated me to create the MacLeod family as I imagined Vernon’s family to be—was knowing him and his two brothers as adults. Each was a great success: good to their families and prosperous in their careers. Instead of replicating the behaviors their parents modeled for them, all three of them chose to do the opposite. While listening to Vernon’s stories, I imagined how mentally strong and physically tough he and his brothers must’ve been as kids not to have cracked under such strain and to have thrived as adults. Make no mistake, all three of them were scarred: even as comfortable seniors they feared losing everything and having to go back to the hardscrabble lives they’d endured. However, they didn’t perpetuate what was done to them on the next generation; they had the strength of character to break that cycle.