Getting Out of Dodge City, Heading for L.A. on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe is a short novel that reads like a memoir and that will appeal to those interested in black American history and the dynamics of poor black American families from the early 1800s to the 1960s.
The story begins in 1821 with our narrator talking about the origins of the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroads, how they replaced the old Santa Fe Trail, and the impact they had on the people of Dodge City, Kansas. Author Clifton E. Marsh describes the city as “the dust bowl queen of America,” a dry place where “the wind and sand blew so hard a man could catch sand pneumonia.” It is in the heart of this city where our narrator’s family come from, starting with General Burnie, the imposing grandfather who was a laborer at the railroad. The tale spans three generations, from the grandfather to his beautiful daughter Marguerite who eventually moves to Los Angeles and marries Clifton, to her two sons, Jesse and Hugo, born from different fathers and who both live different painful lives that reflect the lives of other Black men during the 50s and 60s. Homelessness, street gangs, sexual and drug abuse are just some of the subjects explored in this story.
Because it has lots of narration and exposition and very little dialogue, Getting Out of Dodge City, Heading for L.A. on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe reads more like a memoir than a novel. I was a bit put off by several punctuation mistakes and by the use of purple prose in some love scenes, but on the whole, this is a poignant, honest and heartfelt account about a black family trying to survive and improve their lives in the midst of a decaying society that is full of obstacles.
This review originally appeared in Blogcritics Magazine.
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