A grim, convincing, remarkably assured first novel about the darker byways of the Civil War. Set largely in the isolated mountains and fertile valleys of western North Carolina, Price's story follows the struggles of the once wealthy Curtis family in 1863 to survive one more year of war. Madison Curtis, an influential planter before secession, is a man increasingly hard-pressed by circumstance. His three sons, Howell, Jack, and Andy, are all in the Confederate Army. His daughters are without husbands. The fertile land goes untilled. His considerable holdings of livestock have been depleted by raids from several violent local clans. And then a raiding party claiming to be Union soldiers, but actually a band of thieves, deserters, and psychopathic thugs, rides up to his door. Throughout, freelance writer Price, brings an astonishing verisimilitude to the narrative. The salty, exact language, tough-minded views, hard lives, and bloody deeds of these characters ring true throughout. Behind the lines in Price's South, the law is largely nonexistent. Bandits of every description prowl the backwoods, along with deserters, those attempting to avoid conscription (the draft was as unpopular in the South as in the North), and contending forces of Union and Confederate troops prone to shoot first and ask questions later. There are many small, confused skirmishes, ambushes, and atrocities. Price moves back and forth between the sufferings of the Curtis family and the experiences of their boys at the battle of Chickamauga, an inconclusive Confederate victory. One of the boys, watching the vast numbers of men charging forward, thinks ``How huge and without pity'' the thing ``about to consume him'' now appeared. Price excels in catching the plight of individuals caught up in this vast event. The prose is occasionally too ripely folkloric, the structure, shuttling back and forth between characters, sometimes confusing, and the ending needlessly abrupt. But few recent novels have caught with such conviction the true texture and profound emotions of that conflict.
Read full book review >