Spanning more than 120 years, Powers' (Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, 2014, etc.) new novel is an exploration of the ongoing effects of the Civil War.
Alternating chapters between the Civil War era and the mid-20th century, the novel opens with the mysterious disappearance, and rumored death, of Emily Reid Levallois in the late 1860s and then moves back to look over her life beginning with her birth. Her father, Bob, was a mule skinner in Chesterfield County outside of Richmond, Virginia, whose work paid for a "modest but respectable" house and two slaves, Aurelia and her son, Rawls. The Reids live next to the Beauvais Plantation, owned by the coldly cruel Antony Levallois, one of those planters who “dreamed their farms were kingdoms.” After Rawls tries to run away, looking for a fellow slave named Nurse he’s met and fallen in love with, Levallois buys him, Aurelia, and a Percheron horse for about $1,400, demonstrating in a deft stroke the cruel position of slaves as mere animals to their owners. Levallois was happy with his purchase: "Accounting for inflation, he damn near got the horse for free." Meanwhile, in a story set in the 1950s, we meet George Seldom, now in his 90s and on a quest to seek out some of the places associated with his childhood. While at first the two narratives seem to have little relationship to each other, as the novel progresses we learn of the intricate connections between characters over generations. Back amid the chaos of the Civil War, Bob Reid joins the Confederate army and is badly wounded, his life coming even further apart when he learns that Emily has taken shelter at Beauvais and that Levallois has plans to marry her. With a complex structure reminiscent of Faulkner, Powers adroitly weaves his narrative threads together with subtle connections that reinforce his themes of longing for coherence and the continuing effect of the past on the present.
An impressive novel of slavery, destruction, and the arduous difficulties of love.