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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Baja Oklahoma is something of an anomaly; while recognizably the work of Dan Jenkins, its social concerns are different from those of Semi-Tough (1972) and Jenkins's other novels. Set in Herb's Cafe, a Fort Worth bar, the novel deals with the place of a woman in a culture completely dominated by masculine values. Baja Oklahoma examines the social position and possibilities of a twice-divorced, middle- aged waitress in a blue-collar bar; at first and even second glance, it is not a position anyone would choose to occupy. The novel presents the social milieu of the bar in realistic, comic detail — the camaraderie of a group of regulars who drink too much, talk dirty, meet their lovers, bet wild sums of money on whatever football game interests them, and argue the merits of country music. It is not an easy way to make a living; Jenkins's heroine survives by possessing the Texan values and virtues she shares with Billy Clyde Puckett of Semi-Tough: humor, cynicism, and a kind heart.

An important theme of the novel is the saving power of dreams. In an atmosphere that seems to preclude the possibility of worldly success, Jenkins's characters survive and, indeed, succeed through a combination of toughness and luck. Occasionally, beneath the general hilarity, the reader hears a quiet conversation between a customer and the waitress that reveals their mutual pain over children gone wrong. They endure with grace because of their dreams of a better day. Jenkins's heroine, seemingly caught in her limited world, dreams of being a songwriter, carrying on the Fort Worth tradition of Western Swing; with humor and toughness, she works to make her dream reality.