Author Robert Fraga’s methodic compilation of personal accounts in “The Greening of OZ” has produced the most complete volume to date of the May 4, 2007 tornado and the small town rebuilding in its wake.
From the first page, Fraga sets a theme that runs clear through to page 226. With hours and hours of interview material, that was probably scraping the surface of a tragedy that affected tens of thousands of people, Fraga has chosen to pluck out many of the most important bits.
Paragraphs, sometimes a half-page long and sometimes only a few sentences, are all separated by a single line. These chunks of stories and analysis are apart almost to say ‘there is much more to this, but for the sake of time and space, we must move on.’
Perhaps Fraga was saying, ‘here are enough pieces of the puzzle for you to see what it is, but it is in no way complete.’
Or perhaps he needed to fill extra pages.
Fraga throws us in the emotional deep end with heart wrenching personal accounts taken from the survivors of the EF5 tornado that destroyed 95 percent of the buildings in Greensburg Kansas.
With a number of books about Greensburg having been published since the tornado, he finds a way to revisit previously published stories and presents them in riveting detail.
The story of Megan Gardiner, a local waitress whose precious lock box, containing a mere $1,000 is merely a plot device in her tale of panic amidst exploding windows and torrential tornado winds.
Fraga is able to expand upon a previously published story by Gardiner in the Twisted Tales book, a compilation of submitted stories by tornado survivors.
While Gardiner’s Twisted Tales entry is powerful, Fraga is able to frame the story with new detailed insight.
Gardiner’s written account is much more personal when it is revealed her friend had told her it would get “so still and quiet” before a tornado, having experienced one herself a few years earlier. “I knew this was it,” wrote Gardiner.
Throughout the book, Fraga dishes mountains of details from a pre-tornado secret Greensburg “boys club” called the Rat Pack, to the relationships between government offices and non-profit entities in the weeks, months and years following the tornado.
The rebuilding process and all of its failures and successes in the second half of the book is by far the most fascinating.
The chapter entitled “Aftermath of Compromise” is a stark reality check to some readers, who may see Greensburg as an eco-utopia.
The only fault I found in this book was Fraga himself.
Often interrupting powerful passages with his overbearing personal style, his transition from writing books like “Calculus Problems for a New Century” and “ War Stories from Applied Math” to the non-fiction novella is still a work in progress.
Reading some pages felt like work. Trudging through classic literature references and graduate school vocabulary, I was taken out of some passages by the sheer heaviness of Fraga’s footprint. He is clearly a learned man, but this book shows that he still needs to find the easy and fluid voice needed to scribe a paperback.
Overall, the book was a hard-to-put-downer. The amount of stories and personal accounts not found anywhere else makes this book worth its weight in gold, never mind the unwavering commitment of Fraga to tell an unfiltered story of how a small town took a big step.