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Winner of the 1998 Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Novel from the Texas Institute of Letters

Winner of the Border Regional Library Association Award for Outstanding Book about the Southwest


  • "C.W. Smithís Understanding Women is a great, big-hearted novel that captures the sweetness of innocence lost and the irrevocability of wisdom found. With its double-edged title, it can sneak through customs as a hot, self-help book for lonely losers, but when you read it, you realize it is all that and so much more. I hope itís the roaring success it deserves to be." ~

    -Sarah Bird, author of The Mommy Club and
    Virgin at the Rodeo

  • "C.W. Smithís Understanding Women is a well-wrought coming-of-age novel set in Texas and New Mexico in the 1950s, replete with the classic yearnings and angst of a teen-aged boy eager to learn lessons of love and life he often finds difficult if puzzling. Smithís tale rings true as to the repressive politics of the time and place as his young protagonist, adrift in an oil-field culture, gropes with the pains and pangs of growing up." ~

    -Larry L. King, author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Kingfish; and
    The Night Hank Williams Died

  • "This is a loving and courageous novel, rich in humor, savvy, sex and a social conscience. There’s a sweet sorrow in it like Tender Mercies, and a wonderful adolescent’s yearning that shapes the prose, helping it to soar. C.W. Smith is a gentle magician: he has created a beautiful work of art." ~

    -John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War, The Magic Journey, and Conjugal Bliss

  • "Reminiscent of J.D. Salinger's A Catcher in the Rye, Smith's novel is a brutally honest portrayal of a young man's coming of age that never fails to provoke the mind and pull at the heart strings." ~

    -Rapport (read full review)

  • Understanding women is an initiation story, but it is clearly one told by a mature writer who has gotten beyond the simple coming-of-age story; he can spin out that story slowly and with the wisdom that comes with time." ~

    -Texas Books in Review (read full review)

  • "Teens will adore Jimbo's awkward obsession with lust and its consequences and will identify with his naive belief that only he can set things right." ~

    -Booklist (read full review)

  • "Brilliantly executed, Understanding Women takes as its surface theme the bewildering discovery that women of all ages and walks of life have a special mystery that defies male comprehension." ~

    -Texas Observer(read full review)

  • "The story is enjoyable in large part because of its simplicity and straightforward approach to the narrative. Despite its simplicity, the novel touches on complex emotional issues." ~

    -Austin American Statesman (read full review)

  • "Understanding Women is an engaging story of a boy's trip from innocence to experience, woven by a richly gifted writer." ~

    -Dallas Morning News (read full review)



Understanding Women


Itís 1956, and James Robert (Jimbo) Proctorís just turned sixteen when his uncle Waylan and his new wife Vicky invite him to spend a summer toiling in the New Mexico oil patch. Jimbo dreams that heaving heavy metal about will serve as well as a Charles Atlas course to make a man of him, but he lands smack dab into a domestic fracus that has his uncle living in his machine shop and sneaking out with Sharon, his secretary. Meanwhile, Jimboís aunt Vicky leads a protest against a fundamentalist book-ban and rails against American H-bomb tests on Bikini. James sets out to solve the case of what he calls The Hardy Boy and the Mystery of the Marital Estrangement, but when he meets Sharonís cousin, Trudy, and plummets into love himself, the mystery of what brings men and women together or keeps them apart only deepens into confusion and torment. And James has more to learn than why we love and how we earn a mate both deserved and deserving. Heís coming of age in a pivotal year in an era of repression and transition: the Brown decision, hardly two years old, meets die-hard resistance among segregationists; Rosa Parks has just refused to take a back seat; playwright Arthur Miller marries Marilyn Monroe and gets a contempt citation from the House Un-American Activities Committee; Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver lose in a landslide to Ike and Dick Nixon; Ed Sullivan claims heíll never let Elvis "the Pelvis" on his TV show, and a Southern Senator warns Americans against the insidious influence of "foreign" films. In Jimboís hometown of Dallas right-wing complaints of "Red" artists succeed in censoring a traveling art show sponsored by the United States Information Agency; civil defense drills sweep the nation to prepare Americans for nuclear war; sponsor General Electric withdraws an episode of the wildly popular drama "Medic" because it reveals too much about a Cesarean section, and abortions are so forbidden even descriptions of them are stricken from books. How such things -- things he mightíve thought remote and irrelevant -- come to bear heavily on his green life is the thrust of his summerís true education, and he leaves on the cusp not so much of manhood but of adult responsibility.


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