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.