Second-novelist Baker (Naming the New World, 1997) tells of two WWII vets, from wildly different backgrounds, whose lives intersect tragically in the postwar Deep South.
Mather Rose and Lewis Hampton both went off to war and found that, on a daily basis, peace is harder to deal with. From a prosperous and self-assured family, Mather is a black Californian who led a highly decorated black unit through some of the worst fighting in Germany and was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Lewis is from a modest white family in backwoods Mississippi and comes home with a Silver Star. He falls in love with a New Orleans socialite, convinces her father to consent to their marriage, and starts to work for her family’s business. Sensitive and intelligent, Lewis had begun during the war to question his ancestral notions of white supremacy, and, despite his rapid rise at his father-in-law’s firm, he now, after four years in the army, finds southern life constricting and parochial. Mather, who had lived in Paris and traveled widely before the war, feels just as cooped up—and is incensed to learn that the Pentagon has refused to consider his nomination for the Medal of Honor because he’s black. So he climbs into his new Lincoln Zephyr and, with typical impetuosity, sets off from for Washington to register his protest. This means that he has to pass through Mississippi on the way, and a black man driving an expensive car in 1946 isn’t a sight to pass unnoticed. At a gas station in the little town of Meridian, Mather is attacked by Nathan Hampton (older brother of Lewis), and, in the brawl that ensues, Mather kills Nathan. Captured and identified as the killer, Mather hasn’t a prayer of escaping a lynch mob—unless Lewis intervenes.
A pretty obvious morality tale: well written but nothing new.