I recently reviewed Ralph Peters’ newest Civil War novel, Darkness at Chancellorsville, for Civil War Monitor (you can read that review here). It was an enjoyable read by an author with a gift for capturing the essence of a character and telling a zip-along good narrative.
That, in turn, whet my appetite to revisit some other Civil War fiction recently.
First, I took the opportunity to re-read Robert Olmstead’s novel Coal Black Horse, a book I originally reviewed for ECW in July 2012 (you can read that review here). Set during the Civil War, it’s not really a novel about battles so much as the many effects of war. “In war,” Olmstead writes, “you get killed just for living.” He also turned my perception of war a little on its head. His protagonist, a young boy named Roby, sees the number of casualties on a battlefield, and considers: “He thought with all these men dead fighting war, it must be that war was winning.”
The week before, I reread Lance Weller’s Wilderness, a book I originally reviewed for ECW in January 2013 (you can read that review here). The prose is beautiful, but the story focuses on the harshness of life in a coastal frontier (think “Jack London” kinda harsh). I once heard a description of Quentin Tarantino’s movies as being stories of how violent people interact with each other; Weller’s book might be that, but poetic and quieted down by the expanse of the solitary wild, and it deals as much with loneliness as violence.
My final book was Peter Tsouras’s Gettysburg: An Alternate History. Tsouras’s book reads like a traditional military history, complete with quotes from primary sources written by participants (used in different contexts). Imagine all the most popular What-If scenarios that go with Gettysburg: What if Jeb Stuart had reached Lee sooner? What if Ewell had tried to take the hills after the first day? What if John Buford hadn’t left the battlefield after the first day? What if Longstreet had successfully argued to move part of the army around the Federal left on the morning of the second day? What if Pickett’s Charge included more men? With so many permutations to work into the narrative, everything kind of winds up playing out the way it did in actual history so that Tsouras can then take a stab at the next “What if.” Thus, as a work of counterfactual history, it did little to illuminate the repercussions of the factual history.
I have a few more works of creative Civil War writing I hope to hit up this coming semester, although I’m taking a break for a bit. It’s good to step away from the war for a while. Stephen King’s The Stand seems like a good book to revisit next….