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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lost masterpiece
William Humphrey's second novel The Ordways (1964) is not as well known as his more celebrated first novel Home From the Hill (1958). The novel's early reception suffered from its fragmented structure, as it is separated into 4 distinct sections: In a Country Churchyard, The Stepchild, Sam Ordway's Revenge, and Family Reunion. Like Home From the Hill, the plot is...
Published on June 26, 2002 by bacteria

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1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Very heavy narrative - could not get past 60 pages.
Published 1 month ago by Georgie Girl


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lost masterpiece, June 26, 2002
By 
"bacteria" (Connecticut - United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ordways (Paperback)
William Humphrey's second novel The Ordways (1964) is not as well known as his more celebrated first novel Home From the Hill (1958). The novel's early reception suffered from its fragmented structure, as it is separated into 4 distinct sections: In a Country Churchyard, The Stepchild, Sam Ordway's Revenge, and Family Reunion. Like Home From the Hill, the plot is intricate and convoluted. It various digressions, references to unrevealed elements and events, and frequent narrative jumps between past and present slowly reveals the story in bits and pieces.
Humphrey's writing was often compared to Faulkner, an influence Humphrey vigorously denied. Insightful comments from two reviewers are revealing: "[Humphrey's] cosmos is less awry than Faulkner's, and his syntax is far more agreeable," and "Humphrey gives us...a piece of Faulkner in which the obscurities have been clarified and the crooked made straight."
Nearly 40 years after its publication, the loose structure and the Faulknerian inheritance of The Ordways are no longer hindrances to its value. It was unjust to Humphrey that the book was viewed as a shortfall compared to his first.
The story contains two main elements. First is the retold saga of the migration of the Ordway family ancestors from Tennessee to Texas, which is recounted in the section entitled In a Country Churchyard. The saga relates the travails of Civil War soldier Thomas Ordway, his incapacitating injury, his wife Ella's determination to keep the family together, their eventful migration to Texas, and the remainder of their lives in Texas. This remembrance is told during Remembrance Day, a yearly event where families clean cemetery housing the graves of their ancestors. In a Country Churchyard is brilliant writing and story-telling, both emotional and hilarious. Much of the Ordway history is extravagant and over-the-top, yet deeply moving at the same time. Bert Almon, Humphrey's primary literary critic, points out that Humphrey's desire was to satirize a number of southern and western cultural myths: the glorification of the lost southern cause of the Civil War, excessive southern piety to family, glamorization of the Wild West and cowboys, and an obsession with the past. Despite his extra-textual satirical goal, Humphrey does not come off as nasty or sarcastic. In fact, his love and affection are clearly on display. In a Country Churchyard is fiction, writing, and story-telling at its finest.
The second main element is an account spanning nearly 30 years of the kidnapping of Sam Ordway's son Ned by a neighbor, Sam's futile attempt to track down his son and the perpetrator, and at last the reunion of father and son about 30 years after the fact. The Stepchild describes the loss of the child and the step-by-step realization that he has been kidnapped. Slow, yet dramatic, The Stepchild is more straightforward story-telling compared to In a Country Churchyard. However, the events in The Stepchild, frequently and tantalizingly foreshadowed in In a Country Churchyard, make the prologue even more masterful and gives The Stepchild an extra poignancy. Sam Ordway's Revenge is a humorous recital of Sam Ordway's ridiculous search for his son. Ludicrous events happen time and again; this section perhaps reveals Humphrey's satirical intent the most. It does not continue the same sense of drama and devotion of the previous two sections and thus I found it somewhat weaker. Family Reunion is also weak compared to the book's first two sections. It is similarly humorous, capturing the celebrations across Texas for the reunion of Sam and his son Ned. The reunion of father and son provides some relief to the reader after the central tragedy of the kidnapping, but one wonders if the book may have been more powerful had the reunion never occurred.
Mr. Humphrey's lack of literary success was a source of great disappointment to him. I am similarly at a loss why his career did not take off as did those of his less-talented contemporaries. William Humphrey died in August 1997. I hope that his extremely worthy works The Ordways, Home from the Hill, and Farther Off from Heaven will not be forgotten. Everything you could ever want of a writer is there.
Thanks to LSU Press, two of these fine books are still available. A word to the fiction connoisseur - buy them while you can.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, August 18, 2000
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This is an important book for every Texan to read because it is a family history so many of us share. William Humphries viidly follows the day-to-day life and adventures of our ancestors from the time they pull up stakes in Arksansas or Alabama to putting down roots in Texas.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe this book is still available, August 3, 2011
To my knowledge, I am the only person in my orbit who read this book about 40 years ago. It was heart-wrenching and hysterically funny at the same time. This book deserves a second go around.

This is why I love the internet. If it's out there, we will find it!
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1.0 out of 5 stars One Star, January 6, 2015
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This review is from: The Ordways (Hardcover)
Very heavy narrative - could not get past 60 pages.
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Ordways
Ordways by William Humphrey (Paperback - May 1, 1989)
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