Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Trade, 449 pages, 1997
Reason for Reading: I initially noticed this one at a used bookstore, but wasn’t really intrigued by the war setting. After I saw the movie, though, which I really liked, I changed my mind.
Synopsis: America’s civil war has divided a nation in thought and on a personal level. The story is told in the alternating viewpoints of Ada, a delicate belle left to fend for herself on a farm, and Inman, a wounded soldier that doesn’t care about the cause anymore and just wants to return home. In the book, we see the struggle for survival, both in finding a way to live and finding a reason to want to live.
Why you should read this book: The writing is good, full of descriptions of the forces of nature that Ada and Inman are each trying to survive in their own ways. Frazier doesn’t pull any punches with his descriptions of war. There’s no glorified heroism and patriotism, just a delicate balance between looking out for number one while trying not to become hardened to the lives of others. There’s a good cast of secondary characters, from people Inman meets briefly on his travels, to Ruby, a no-nonsense farmer with big ideas.
Why you should avoid this book: If the story wasn’t told in the alternating viewpoints of Ada and Inman, you likely wouldn’t even notice that they had ever met, much less see any romantic tension. Pining away for three hundred pages is one thing, but a half a dozen pages of interaction between the two hardly holds up a sense of connection or suspense between the two stories. It almost feels like Frazier was trying so hard not to ‘stoop’ to Harlequin sentimentality that he forgot that even in ‘literature’ a love story needs love for the reader to care about the characters. Kind of a disappointment after the movie. (Now, there’s a rarity.)
At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. He flapped the flies away with his hands and looked across the foot of his bed to an open triple-hung window. Ordinarily he could see to the red road and the oak tree and the low brick wall. And beyond them to a sweep of fields and flat piney woods that stretched to the western horizon. The view was a long one for the flatlands, the hospital having been built on the only swell within eyeshot. But it was too early yet for a vista. The window might as well have been painted grey.
A hole opened up at the back of the canoe at waterline. Brown water streamed in at the alarming rate of a cow pissing. Inman looked ahead to the landing and saw a party of a half-dozen men milling about in the moonlight. Some of them began firing their little pistols, but they had not the carrying power to cover the distance. The man with the rifle, though, had it turned up and was working with the ramrod to tamp in a fresh load. The only way Inman could figure it, the men must have framed the evening in their minds as a type of coon hunt, as sport; otherwise they would have long since gone back to town.
Tired as she was, though, she had found herself over and over rising from true sleep into a foggy hovering state of partial wakefulness, a fretful hybrid of sleep and wake partaking of the worst aspects of each. She felt she was raking and pitching hay all through the night. When she roused enough to open her eyes, she saw the black shadows of tree limbs moving in the block of moonlight cast across the floorboards, and the shapes seemed unaccountably troubling and ominous. Then, sometime in the night, clouds blacked out the moon and rain feel hard and Ada finally fell asleep.
Also recommended: The Hours by Michael Cunningham; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys.
Also by this author: Thirteen Moons.
Awards: National Book Award: Winner, 1997
Â© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007