Stefanile’s debut novel traces a romance that transcends time, place, life and death.
World War II veteran “Jersey,” nicknamed in honor of his home state, returns to Greenville, N.J., a hero in the eyes of his neighbors, but he is haunted by the memory of a German soldier he shot in a church in Italy, and by the letter he failed to deliver to the soldier’s widow. Also troubled by a letter he never mailed to a woman that he loves, Jersey takes a job with the railroad, sorting through the company’s old records. One day he finds yet another letter, this one written by a mother on her deathbed and addressed to her Confederate soldier son Will Vollmer. Along with Jersey, the reader is transported to pre-Civil War Greenville, Ga., where a 5-year-old girl appears on the front porch of the Vollmer residence on New Year’s Day. The Vollmers raise young Mary as a daughter, but son Will and Mary’s feelings for one another are not those of a brother and sister. Will leaves a pregnant Mary behind when he goes to fight for the South, never dreaming that the combined forces of a fever and an awkward Union soldier would take his entire family from him in one day. Suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, Will heads north, meeting Mary, his father, mother and child in previous and future incarnations. Sometimes confusing, sometimes a bit odd and sometimes downright bizarre, Will’s odyssey is consistently heart-wrenching. He ends his journey as a railroad worker in Greenville, N.J., communicating telepathically with Mary, and periodically encountering his loved ones inhabiting different forms. A unique love story with a surprising happily ever after, the story would be strengthened by more development of Jersey’s story, which seems an afterthought. Far more evocative than the Civil War scenes, Jersey’s post-World War II New Jersey is a memorable setting.
A unique, emotional read that falls just short of its promise.