Image courtesy ThePrizeWinner.com
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan tells the story of Evelyn Ryan, mother of ten children and wife to an alcoholic. Evelyn, with a knack for short, clever poems, jingles, and essays, entered the myriad contests that were popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Her skill won her everything from toasters to basketballs to automobiles to grocery shopping sprees to cash prizes large and small. These prizes helped her keep the family solvent with her husband used his paycheck to buy whiskey instead of groceries.
Terry Ryan’s memoir gives a peek into the thoughts and schemes of a contester who mailed in as many entries as possiblet o Burma Shave, Skippy Peanut Butter, Kleenex, and Paper Mate, among many others — and she won much of the time. Her strategies and methods are interesting, and the book provides a large number of examples of her writing.
While interesting, however, the memoir is not the most enjoyable read. Terry Ryan seems to make an attempt to show the personalities of each of her family members, but they come out flat. Even Evelyn herself seems merely two-dimensional — a happy, clever writer who sometimes has to get angry to stand up to her alcoholic husband. While Evelyn’s method of supporting her family is intriguing and unusual, the picture of the whole woman seems just out of grasp.