Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Review: Ragtown by Kelly Stone Gamble

 Genre: Historical Fiction


“Helen Carter lives in the back seat of her father’s Model T in the harsh Nevada desert, surrounded by thousands of desperate souls trying to endure the hardships of the Great Depression. When her father dies while working on the Hoover Dam diversion tunnels, she finds herself alone. In this unforgiving landscape where marriage, prostitution, and starvation seem to be her only viable choices, Helen is determined to defy society's expectations of a young woman and create her own American dream. She relies on her resourcefulness to survive but soon realizes she can't go it alone.

Ezra Deal, a young dam worker, brought his sister to Nevada in search of the father of her child, only to have the man reject her. Tragically, both his sister and the baby pass away during childbirth, leaving Ezra with a profound sense of guilt. Determined to distance himself from any further responsibilities, he focuses on his job and locating the man who callously denied his sister. But when he learns that his friend Helen is running from not only the law but also a Las Vegas gangster, he must decide between his independent lifestyle and helping her.

As Helen and Ezra grow closer and become more invested in the diversion of the Colorado River from its course, their lives parallel this monumental change. Ezra can picture building a life with Helen, but she has other ideas. With the help of a thirteen-year-old runaway, a few prostitutes, a dead desperado, and Ezra, Helen embarks on a journey to live life on her terms.

Incorporating actual dramatic events gleaned from the oral histories of the dam workers, Ragtown highlights a time in American history when ordinary men and women overcame the challenges of the Great Depression and thrived.”


Midwestern-born Kelly Stone Gamble was a longtime resident of Las Vegas, which got her interested in the history of the area which is reflected in this book. She currently lives in Oklahoma and is a member of the faculty at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

For more, visit Ms Gamble’s website.


It would be reasonable to view this book as two, maybe three, books in one. Although it surprises me a bit to realize, I liked them all.

The first book is the main story that you’d expect from the book’s description. It’s historical fiction with what could be viewed as two protagonists. The story takes place in the early part of the Great Depression. Jobs are hard to come by and those that are available often have some downsides. Our protagonists, Helen and Ezra, are both living with their families in an area people call Ragtown, near the place where the Hoover Dam is being built. Various factors including deaths in their families and struggles to make ends meet make for an engaging story as both Helen and Ezra’s stories progress. I found this story engaging as it helped drive home how tough things were during that time for a large percentage (dare I say majority) of people without many good ways to improve their lot in life. Once I was introduced to Helen and Ezra I had to find out how things turned out for them.

The main story makes for a decent sized novel by itself. However, at the end of each chapter is a section labeled “Author Note.” Someone could just skip these and they would get the historical fiction story they came for and should be happy with it. But if you want the other two books I mentioned, then read the author notes. These have contents that fall into one of two categories. The majority of them talk about the author’s research into the history of the time and place the story takes place. It expands a bit on some of the specific things mentioned in the story and gives them some historical context. The third book is the remainder of the author notes. These talk a bit about the writing process and give a bit of a glimpse into the writing process. At times in the past I’ve compared getting these kinds of glimpses into the writing process to being the reader’s equivalent of “watching the sausage being made,” but for some reason these notes didn’t strike me that way. I instead found them interesting.

I thought Ragtown was an excellent story. I found the historical part of it interesting, but if that doesn’t appeal to you, skip the author notes and you’ll still be left with an engaging story with characters you’ll like and be pulling for in a story world that’s a nice change of pace.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an ARC (advance reviewer copy) and thus I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 145-150,000 words

1 comment:

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed Ragtown.