A Civil War novel from Vermont-based author McFarland (Letter from Point Clear, 2007, etc.) that, like The Red Badge of Courage, focuses on the horror of battle as well as on the psychology of the soldier.
Summerfield Hayes signs up to fight for the Union for several reasons, some of them better than others. He’s from Brooklyn and was recently made an orphan when his parents died in an accident while visiting Ireland. Strangely, but perhaps most importantly, he feels the need to get away from his older sister, Sarah, for whom he has quasi-incestuous feelings. In 1864, he finds himself fighting in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. Wounded by shrapnel and bleeding badly, he’s abandoned by his regiment but eventually wends his way to an Army hospital in Washington, D.C. Temporarily unable to escape, he listens closely to the conversations of his wounded comrades and is also subject to the tender ministrations of a nurse—Walt Whitman. It’s a matter of concern and outrage when an officious captain comes into the hospital and berates Hayes for being a deserter. Before the war, Hayes had been an outstanding baseball player, and early in his Army career—before the horrors of the Wilderness—he was instrumental in helping to set up a friendly rivalry between two competing teams. (It’s amusing that since there has to be some kind of rationale behind the teams, it’s decided to have single men on one team and married men on the other.) The captain investigating Hayes believes he’s now malingering simply so he can go back to New York and play baseball once again. Using a complex, effective narrative strategy, McFarland moves us confidently from battlefield to hospital to baseball diamond as well as through dream, reverie and memory.
A distinguished addition to fictionalized narratives focused on the Civil War and its aftermath.