Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: The Widow of the South

This book has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while patiently awaiting the day when my mood would dictate reading it. Jeez Louise, what was I waiting for? This is the best novel I've read in years.

I love novels based on real people and real events. The Widow of the South was a real person, Carrie McGavock of Franklin, Tennessee whose large home was near the scene of the battle of Franklin. I knew quite a bit about the battle because Confederate General Patrick Cleburne died there and I had read his biography several years ago. Since I'm a Civil War buff, this was right up my alley.

Apparently this was author Robert Hicks' first novel. I certainly hope it isn't his last. He tells the story through the viewpoint of several characters, one to a chapter. That makes it sound messy and disconnected, but it isn't, and actually I can't think of a better way than to see it through each person's eyes and thoughts.

The day of the battle the McGavock house was commandeered as a hospital and for the next few days and weeks life was a blur of caring for horribly wounded Confederate soldiers. The household linens and even underwear were ripped up for bandages. Carrie's husband John organized hauling water to the house and carrying dead men and amputated limbs outside. There they were stacked like so much lumber awaiting burial or removal. The survivors later referred to Carrie as an angel for the way she comforted and cared for them; they in turn changed her life forever.

Each character is drawn so beautifully that when I came to the final chapter where there were pictures of them, I knew who they were without the captions. Carrie is the main character of course, but we also get to know Mariah, her slave since childhood and lifelong best friend. I'm not sure whether one character in the story is real or not. Carrie is fascinated by him and falls in love. As a respectable southern woman she remains true to her husband, but she spends many hours with Zachariah Cashwell and through their talks, they both learn much about themselves and life.

I won't tell more of the story because I don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read it, but I do urge you to read this book if you haven't already discovered it. This is a treasure.

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