I could have easily given this book a 4 instead of a 3 except for one thing that annoyed me greatly throughout the book Benni’s and Emory’s way of speaking seems to completely change from in the previous books in the series. Even Gabe’s seems to get a little simplified in a couple places. Gabe says Benni’s accent had thickened considerably after she’s only been in Arkansas for a few days, but her grammar also seems to deteriorate immediately. She’s maybe made one or two grammatical mistakes in each of the seven earlier books, but in Arkansas Traveler, there’s one in practically every conversation, whether it’s “ain’t,” or “good” instead of “well,” or double negatives, I shuddered mentally quite a few times.
Even Emory, the journalist who writes for a living, seems to dumb down at home. I don’t remember him making any actual grammatical mistakes, but he doesn’t use many, if any, of the “big” words he’s famous for, and which cause Benni’s ex-brother-in-law Wade Harper to say of Emory something like “looks like someone’s trying to tell us they went to college” in Dove in the Window (A Benni Harper Mystery #5). Now, in Emory’s case, this could be the author’s commentary on how people from other parts of the country view the south. I have heard that some people equate a deep southern accent with ignorance, and Emory could have decided to dial up the big newspaper words so show Californians he’s no stupid redneck. The flaw in that idea is that it is hard to believe that Emory could just turn that way of speaking off so easily once he comes home, and the fact that the first time we encounter Emory is through phone conversations with Benni in Kansas Troubles, when he had no need to show off. In fact, I found him pretentious and obnoxious in that book, but I’ve since come to love him.
One of my criteria for giving a book a 4 is if it made me cry, and it did that a couple times, but the annoyance factor was enough to knock it down a star. Maybe it’s just me, easily-peeved English major here, but no one else seems to have been bothered by this, judging by reviews. The shift is probably not nearly as obvious if you read the books as they were published, or at least with other books in between each one, but I’ve just read six in a row, so it really stood out. The rift between Emory and Elvia was sad, and like Benni, I knew everything would work out in the end. The racism is heartbreaking, especially among the younger people who are running around acting like they can practically lynch someone of color because they feel like it, when they should be the ones growing up more colorblind and trying to change the ways of the older people who lived through segregation. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Gwenette’s reaction to finding out that her ex-husband Duck is marrying a black woman, Amen, and that she will be the step-mother to their daughter. That will, without doubt, cause a lot more trouble and sadness for that family down the road, though.