The year is 1979. Malaise, stagflation, turmoil in the Middle East, and a gas crunch; these things are but background noise for what unfolds when a lovesick businessman and a sociopathic drifter cross paths. John Nix, business manager of a Silicon Valley semiconductor startup, picks up Horace Fullworth, a ne’er-do -well heir of a wealthy California family, who has returned to San Francisco after surviving the Jonestown Massacre.
After John discovers his girlfriend cheating, he drives to a bar in the small rustic town of La Honda. He meets Ellie O’Neil, a pretty young woman he offers to drive home. Feeling misled by her, he leaves her on the side of the road, where Horace finds her. John hears that Ellie has gone missing and is overcome with guilt. His struggle with his conscience leads him back to those rugged coastal foothills of the San Francisco Peninsula.
Thanks to the author for giving me this review copy! I’m going to pass it on to one lucky reader: see bottom of post on how to enter.
Horace Fullworth flies back to California after surviving the Jonestown Massacre. He is curiously empty inside, devoid of feeling or conscience. John Nix becomes extremely depressed after walking in on his girlfriend in bed with another man. Their stories are intertwined when a girl named Ellie goes missing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic atmosphere of California circa 1979–Harvey Milk, reduced emissions, smoking on airplanes, and Dallas on TV. Hughes does an exemplary job of setting the reader right back to those days, and that was one of my favorite things about the book. The mood is dark and murky, and happiness is just out of reach for the characters.
John spends a lot of time drinking and wishing he was a stronger man, while Horace is enjoying the life of a sociopath, living for himself and trying not to give in to those feelings and urges that lurk below the surface. I grew a bit weary of John’s self pity, and by the time things really started happening, the book was almost half over. This resulted in a rush to the end that felt a bit lopsided to me. The way the story was told needed better timing, but the plot itself was captivating and kept me focused.
John Nix’s life was so depressing that Horace seemed positively cheery in comparison. Hughes does an excellent job of showing how John stagnates while everyone around him goes on with their life, things falling their way effortlessly. Even Horace manages to develop a farm, complete with hired help to plant a pumpkin field.
The character of Ellie is a curious one, not as developed as the two man, and this bothered me a little. The plot twists seem a bit forced once you digest all the information revealed towards the end. Ellie is mostly a mystery, and it was hard for me to root for her to be found. Some things about her are made deliberately obtuse, for the purpose of furthering the mystery, but it just frustrated me. I think if the action was more spread out throughout the entire book it would have worked better.
Other than that, PUMPKIN FARMER was an easy to read book that gets its strength from the atmosphere. Choosing the 70’s as the backdrop makes this story work by inciting nostalgia along with the mystery. Times were more innocent back then, and the juxtaposition of these characters is what makes the dichotomy so powerful. The details are exact and mildly comforting (I remember almost everything Hughes describes) as they pop up amongst the drinking binges and self loathing. Hughes captures the emotions of the times well, adding the background naturally, not forcefully. I especially liked the idea of the emotionless Horace harboring the secret desire to become the titular pumpkin farmer. The lesson goes to show that what people appear to be on the surface, is not always the true measure of their souls. Remember this as you read the book.
Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1612964745″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].