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Central California Life Magazine

Book Review: “The Barber’s Wife”

Nov 19, 2014 04:34PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Book Review: “The Barber’s Wife”

by Jeffery Williams

Photos courtesy of Mary Kate Monahan & Alternative Book Press

Pick up a novel where one of the characters is the infamous Pretty Boy Floyd and you might anticipate a story with bank robberies and shootouts. But Fresno State lecturer Tanya Nichols’ debut novel “The Barber’s Wife” skirts the violent scenes to explore a nurse’s internal battle with the dilemma of treating wounded criminals even though she might face incarceration.

Against the backdrop of Depression-era, gangster-ridden Oklahoma, Nichols creates the character of Mayme, a devoted nurse who, in between regular shifts at the small hospital in Tahlequah, pilfers supplies and medicines to secretly care for folks who cannot afford medical care.

Her compulsion to help the less fortunate extends to pushing the ethical envelope to assist those sought after by the law. By day she might care for a cop wounded in a shootout and by night treat a wounded gangster hiding out in the backwoods.

Mayme also grapples with her growing attraction to Joe Stern, a doctor who assists her in treating mobsters on the run. Her longing for a more intimate relationship than she has with her husband O.C., the town barber, threatens to ruin her reputation and respectability. Ironically, it will be Pretty Boy Floyd who will confront Mayme concerning her indiscretions and try to force her to walk the straight and narrow. As the plot nears its riveting conclusion, Nichols constructs an engaging mystery and intriguing twist.

Nichols is a wordsmith who illustrates characters in vibrant ways and captures the setting of a small town Oklahoma with lyrical descriptions. She said she grew up hearing stories of gangsters from her grandfather, a barber who cut Pretty Boy Floyd’s hair. She carefully researched the time and setting of her grandparents who, despite being a barber and a nurse, “share nothing in common with the characters of the story,” she said. 

Nichols read her grandmother’s medical books in order to accurately portray the medical care of the time.

“I enjoyed the process of research. When I visited Tahlequah, I was amazed at how generous people were and how willing they were to help me with finding papers and journals from that era,” she said.

Nichols has been an instructor for the past 10 years at Fresno State, where she teaches writing and children’s literature for students in the liberal arts major. In addition to working on her memoir and novels nearly every day, Nichols regularly plays mandolin in a local band. She is also director of the Young Writer’s Conference for high school students at Fresno State and editor-in-chief of the San Joaquin Review, a literary journal.

“The Barber’s Wife” is available at Fresno State’s Kennel Bookstore, at A Book Barn in Clovis and on


Jeffery Williams has been a high school English teacher for 27 years. He is also a freelance writer and the award-winning author of the novel “Pirate Spirit.”