Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE SILENT by Jack Dann


by Jack Dann

Pub Date: July 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-553-09716-4
Publisher: Bantam

A ferocious portrait of the Civil War’s human toll. Dann (The Memory Cathedral, 1995, etc.) isn’t much concerned here with causes or outcomes. His gruesome chronicle of the suffering of 14-year-old Edmund McDowell, caught up in the efforts of —Stonewall— Jackson to defeat a Federal Army in 1862, is clearly intended to remind us that the Civil War was as brutal as any other war. Mundy disobeys his minister father and goes in search of a skirmish, hoping to watch his hero Stonewall chase the Yankees out of his valley. Instead he stumbles into the midst of a rout, finds the body of a longtime acquaintance who had been searching for him, and arrives home in time to see Union deserters shoot his father and rape and murder his mother. Sick and disoriented, Mundy wanders in and out of the battle lines. Made a prisoner, he’s compelled for a time to work in a Union field hospital, witnessing almost unimaginable horrors. Escaping, he falls in briefly with a band of renegade slaves, and after leaving them becomes the companion of a deranged Confederate cavalryman. Despite Mundy’s efforts to escape both his memories and the ever-widening war zone, he inevitably finds himself back in the middle of the slaughter. There is no doubt that Dann captures, in a way few other novelists have, the sheer bloody chaos of battle in the Civil War. Scenes of carnage and madness—with Mundy ravaged by fever, prone to hallucinations, or convulsed by grief—linger in the mind. But the conceit of writing the book as Mundy’s memoirs doesn’t work; it isn’t likely that any 19th-century teenager would have said all the things Mundy does here. And the narrative is finally too long, too repetitive, as if the author didn—t trust the reader to grasp how awful war is. Still, Dann’s anger, and his portrait of combat’s sheer horrors, make for a vivid—and disturbing—read.