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Robertson's long career (An Ideal, Genuine Man; Paradise Falls; and many others) would seem to be on an upswing with this powerfully gritty, poetic rendering of the soldier's life among Confederate rabble as the last days of the Civil War fade into twilight. Here, the author's starving southern skeletons reveal themselves through third-person stream-of-consciousness that will strike most readers as masterfully accurate without being tiresome. As ever, Robertson's lowlifes are full of gases and aches and itches and dried sperm and secret fragrant fluids (the women) and loose teeth, all noted down as if on a doctor's chart. Shoeless, castoff stragglers still fighting on somewhere outside of Richmond, these half-mad wanderers are prisoners not only of the war's end but of a cultural stuntedness almost cellular in its depth. Sgt. Patterson, a 20-year-old virgin, finds himself falling in love with beautiful young Pvt. Pendarvis, with whom he makes a rendezvous--but Pendarvis dies, riddled in face and body when executed for looting. Jasper Tidwell, the company cook, is spellbound by memories of his plump wife Rosemary and their eight children and passes as many waking moments as possible thinking of Rosemary's breasts. A pure Rebel scream of murder and hatred, Pvt. John T. Llewellyn, who witnessed John Brown's capture and hanging at Harper's Ferry, has been driven psychopathic by his young brides desertion and simply wants to wreak his wrath and vengeance on as many Yankees and ""niggers"" as he can--but, ironically, is undeservedly executed for desertion. During the novel's course of one week, these and about 12 other remaining members of this tiny, retreating troop claw through a hardscrabble universe--while destiny draws them into a totally madcap, murderous engagement with another band of loony Confederates on the very day Lee surrenders at Appomattox, with friend slaying friend in a mass daughter echoing the end of An Ideal, Genuine Man (wherein a grieving old man shoots all his friends to save them from growing old). More rock-bottom naturalism from Robertson--with strong writing but a way over-the-top climax.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Publisher: Crown