There’s no better way to learn and retain history than through a well researched, historical novel. When I finally managed to put down Son of a Preacherman, I knew more about Oklahoma during the 1920s than I had learned in school.
I grew up in Oklahoma, studied state history and still never heard about the Greenwood District, Black Wall Street or the Tulsa race riot. A little research revealed that much of the true story was intentionally overlooked by history books until 1996 when the state legislature commissioned a report to establish the historical record.
Marlene Banks’ book, Son of a Preacherman, is remarkably accurate. The main characters, Billy Ray Maitthias and and Benny Freeman are fictitious, but the circumstances that surround them and the events they participate in are very real.
Banks seems to draw the very real into her fiction as much as she adds some drama to the history. She doesn’t shy away from the racial brutality of the time. Banks includes nearly every conceivable conflict, giving the reader insight into how homosexuality was viewed, how women were treated and how religion played both a positive and negative role in society.
Every element of a good story is included in Son of a Preacherman. Romance steadily blooms between Benny and Billy Ray. No chapter is dominated by cheesy dialogue or passionate scenes. However, following the two lovers through the turmoil provides an excellent balance to the book’s constant suspense.
After the tension of the book, I did find the epilogue almost too conclusive. Banks wraps each character’s situation and seals the book with an implied, “happily ever after.” Given that there is a sequel to Son of a Preacherman, I would have liked to be left with a not-too-steep cliffhanger.