OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL by Allan Gurganus
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OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL

A Novel
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A long (720 pp.) first novel--partly grand entertainment, partly hobbyhorse--about a century-long battle between the sexes. Told mostly as oral history, it's occasionally garrulous, but it's also full of lore and a voice at times worthy of Eudora Welty. Lucy Marsden, born in 1885 or thereabouts, tells the tale at age 99 from Lane's End Rest Home, and she takes the book's epigraph to heart: "Myth is gossip grown old." In rhythm with Lucy's memory, the narrative meanders between war stories, family conflicts, rest-home instances, and rudimentary feminism. Lucy was the child bride of Captain Willie, a media-stop (oldest Civil War veteran) in modern times. Willie, crazed from the War, never got over the death of Ned, a beautiful boy, so Lucy's marriage chronicles a lifetime of abuse--until she wins a death-struggle and kills a nearly senile but still-cagey Willie. That climax takes a while to reach, however, for Lucy delivers many other richly told stories: Willie's war anecdotes, as well as a more grandiloquent version of the War told to Lucy by a classroom teacher; Willie's mother "Lady" Marsden's story (Yankees bum down her mansion and freed slaves loot it); the epic tale of ex-slave Castalia Marsden, ranging from Africa and slave ships to a present-day kinship with Lucy; the story of Lucy's nine children and of her own growth into liberation and feminism ("Males are frailer and shorter-lived and overly talented at the pride that depresses"); and a host of other tellings, usually in Lucy's gossipy dialect. A Disneyland for Civil War buffs-in a modernist version of Gone with the Wind-that's sometimes tedious but more often panoramic and moving. Either way, it announces the arrival of a genuine talent-one who seems to specialize in excess.
Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1989
ISBN: 0375726632
Page count: 737pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1989




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