NORMAN — Author Molly Levite Griffis sets her newest novel “Welcome to Whizbang, Ruby Trotter” in 1964 Whizbang, Okla.
There actually was a small Osage County town called Whizbang that grew quickly, fueled by an oil boom in the 1920s, but by mid-century, it was largely abandoned.
The story involves New York hairdresser Ruby Trotter, who comes to the rural South and brings women’s liberation along with her.
Griffis introduces us to Whizbang’s prominent citizens, who represent caricatures of the day’s social norms, tending to be either exultant or adamantly opposed to the change that Trotter represents.
The townsfolk often seem to be cartoon characters.
However, the buffoonish reality when these cultural clashes actually occurred, which they did throughout America in the 1960s, would probably be difficult to exaggerate.
Griffis liberally takes extended detours early in the novel, detailing Whizbang’s small town quirks.
These include a mystically malfunctioning traffic light, a feline with supernatural powers and a character obsessed with numerology and horoscopes.
Nevermind that Betty Friedan’s seminal “Feminine Mystique” was published in 1963 and wouldn’t be common on college campuses until years later, a “well-thumbed copy” is being passed around among Whizbang women during church services disguised as a Bible.
Griffis doesn’t miss an opportunity to make reference to colorful details from the 1960s, but those frequently stray into future decades. Hula hoops and troll dolls definitely of the era, drug testing for marijuana not until the 1980s.
Trotter’s minor character’s brother is described as a “hippie” with tattoos, but that word wasn’t in common usage anywhere in 1964, and skin ink didn’t become popular in counter culture circles until much later.
Those may be nit-picking details but distracting nonetheless.
And Whizbang is chock full of details. It’s seldom just a plate of eggs, it’s a “… red Fiesta plate …” with two enormous unblinking eyes.