Slaughter tells the story of a Civil War veteran’s attempts to silence his ghosts while working in the lumber camps of Michigan in this debut novel.
Will Castor serves in Battery D, 1st Regiment, Michigan Light Artillery, sending shells into the ranks of Confederate infantry whenever he’s ordered to do so. When his unit’s position is overrun at the Battle of Chickamauga, Will witnesses and commits ghastly horrors to survive the day. Separated from his army and incapacitated with a broken leg, he hooks up with a Confederate deserter who takes him home to Tennessee and shelters him. While there, Will develops strong feelings for the Rebel’s sister, Mollie. Back in Michigan after the war, he finds work at a lumber company in East Saginaw and attempts to lose himself in the hard life and colorful atmosphere of the camp. As a land looker (someone who evaluates standing timber), Will has the opportunity to traverse the Edenic forest, free of associations and memory. Even so, he struggles with the ghosts of his past, retreating ever deeper into the bottle and into the woods. Haunted by the traumas of the war, the wilds present Will with an unexpected opportunity for redemption—though it may prove to be an even greater battle than the one at Chickamauga. Slaughter is a fastidious writer, summoning the worlds of Civil War artillery and the 19th-century lumber industry in all their gritty details. A frame story about a Castor descendant searching for Will’s grave feels unnecessary and forced, but the scenes of war are replete with all the fire and death the reader expects from a Civil War novel: “Here and there the haze was ripped by long angry streaks of red from the mouths of the guns that set huge swirling eddies adrift in the dense smoke.” Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is its postwar period and its depiction of Will’s PTSD. The reader feels great empathy for this broken veteran, stumbling about in an era when the language for such aftereffects had not yet been established.
An ornate, gruesome, and rigorously crafted Civil War novel.
Slaughter (Echoes of Distant Thunder, 2011) continues the saga of the Castor family against the backdrop of World War I and the mining industry.
Two generations removed from Will Castor, the haunted veteran of the Civil War’s Battle of Chickamauga, the Castors have become a prominent family in the mining town of Ishpeming, Michigan. When a conflict even greater than the War Between the States breaks out in Europe, two of the Castor boys answer the call: John, a shy, studious young man whom the other Marines call “Teach,” and Matt, a charming rake who’s popular with his fellow soldiers as well as with the farm girls of France. On the home+front, their brother Jacob commits a taboo by asking to marry their adopted sister, Rosemarie. Another brother, Bill, runs off to sail the Great Lakes but descends into a listless life of women and booze. In Ishpeming, their father, Robert, attempts to hold the family together while managing the town’s profitable, if dangerous, mine for a Cleveland-based mining company. As pressures mount at home and abroad, the family members are pressed to the limits of their strength, locked in a struggle against the complex, deadly industry of man. The author again demonstrates a remarkable knack for period details—from contemporary slang and popular dances to the equipment and routines of the mining industry—and a powerful ability to render battlefields in all their terrible, peculiar horror: “Sporadic enemy shells had begun to land close by….They were not the earth-shaking detonations of high explosives; they were the dull thuds of gas shells.” As in the previous novel in the Castor Family Trilogy, the real war here is internal and lasts long after shots have ceased to ring out; it’s fought in the minds of those lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive. With this story, however, Slaughter is able to expand beyond the effects of war on one person to explore their repercussions for an entire family—a clan that holds sacred its responsibility to protect its members from harm.
A sharp, immersive family drama played out against the ravages of war.