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THEORY OF WAR by Joan Brady

THEORY OF WAR

By Joan Brady

Pub Date: April 8th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41966-7
Publisher: Knopf

 A white slave in post-Civil War America: that's the hook for this semi-autobiographical fiction. Brady has already written a novel (The Impostor, 1979) and an autobiography (The Unmaking of a Dancer, 1982); here, she reconstructs a life of her grandfather, the slave. Jonathan Carrick was a so-called ``boughten boy,'' purchased at age four for farmwork; he ran away at 16; four of his children would commit suicide. What interests Brady is identity. How is it formed if you are a solitary slave-child? Mulling over the question are narrator/granddaughter Malory Carrick and her uncle Atlas, a son of slave Jonathan. Sequences from Jonathan's life (slaving on a Kansas tobacco farm; riding the railroads, free at last, as a brakeman) are interrupted by discussions between niece and uncle (Atlas has his memories; Malory has been reading the coded diaries) about the meaning of Jonathan's life (the reader becomes a student at an offbeat seminar). Malory sees her grandfather's life fueled (and corroded) by hatred, not for slavemaster Alvah Stoke so much as for Stoke's son George, Jonathan's vicious tormentor. The slave is a model soldier in his war against George, striking opportunely, beating him until he is surely dead, then escaping. Twenty years later, a newly ordained minister, he will lose his religious faith when he discovers that George is alive and flourishing, a US senator; it's war again. Jonathan does get a life (he marries, has children, becomes a successful farmer, albeit a lousy husband and father), but his rage never subsides, returning him to the battlefield for a final confrontation with the Senator when both are old men. There are problems here: awkward format, awkward fact/fiction straddle, overworked war analogy, hokey showdown. Yet this deliberately rough-edged work does command respect for its blistering anger at the poison of slavery in the bloodstream of the Carricks...and America.