A novel published in the 1930s by Eastern Oregon native Nard Jones caused quite a stir with residents in his home town of Weston, who thought some of the characters and scenarios were just too familiar.
The book, “Oregon Detour,” follows a group of teenagers from the fictional town of Creston through high school, graduation night, their first sexual exploits and the early years of marriage. And though Jones published a note in the Weston Leader newspaper claiming the book was a work of total fiction, critics, including Weston’s powerful Saturday Afternoon Club and the Methodist Church, attacked the book as “dirty” and the characters and situations as only thinly disguised — the town’s minister appeared as a doctor in the book, and the fictional high school principal was named after Weston’s real-life derelict.
George Venn, a literature professor at Eastern Oregon State College, read a student’s paper on the book and applied for a grant in 1982 to investigate what really happened, he told a group of Pendleton library supporters on April 21, 1983. He talked to Weston residents, some of whom thought the book was funny. Others told Venn they’d tried to find the book for years, but every copy placed on the shelves of the Weston Public Library had mysteriously disappeared for years. Local libraries were told not to loan copies of the book to Weston, and the few copies that did exist in 1983 could be read, but not checked out. One resident Venn interviewed figured there was a chest somewhere filled with copies of the book.
The book still had its critics, though. Members of the Saturday Afternoon Club asked Venn during his inquiries, “Why are you going around trying to get the skeletons out of the closet?” And the son of a member claimed his mother was one of the story’s characters, and that Jones was trying to “drag people in the dirt.”
Jones, a graduate of Weston High School and Whitman College, distinguished himself as a writer and actor, and penned 17 novels including “Swift Flows the River,” a bestseller. Venn figured Jones wrote “Oregon Detour” during a brief stint working at his father’s store in Weston after college, but the book was published while he was living and working in Seattle as a columnist, editorial writer and associate editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Despite the controversy, Venn thought the book was worth reading for its “insight into the life in a small community.” For those interested in reading “Oregon Detour,” 28 copies are currently available in Eastern Oregon libraries, including two at the Weston Public Library.