LET THE BAND PLAY DIXIE by Lawrence Wells

LET THE BAND PLAY DIXIE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Wells' first, Rommell and the Rebel (1986), mixed the Civil War and the German general; now he combines football's baby years with the twilight of the Confederacy in a mythical North vs. South all-star game played at Gettysburg in 1891. Unfortunately, though, his tall-tale characters, both real and imaginary, are so cartoonishly thin that the entertainment wears off long before it should. The match is concocted by a gambling-empire foot soldier, who, caught cheating the boss, sees his only salvation in a spectacular charity event that will give the boss's name the highest respectability. The most fun comes with the initial Seven Samurai roundup of the Southern all-stars and fans: a country preacher quarterback; his grandfather, eager to settle an old gambling score and win back his Civil War sword; a rural black team coached by a 37-year-old tomboy; General Longstreet, the villain of the Gettysburg defeat, who now converts battlefield maneuvers into football plays; et al. When the crew hits Philadelphia, the initial site of the game, the book grows more clanglingly metallic as the characters, stock figures from American folklore, wear through their introductions. In town, events build with the seesawing poker match of the arthritic veterans and the many machinations by everyone--from the city fathers to petty gamblers--hoping to make the game even more symbolic and profitable. By this time, Wells' knowing winks to the future come to seem heavy-handed, when, for example, a young W.E.B. Dubois arrives to unveil civil rights to the black players. By the finish, when the South wins a cliffhanger, the book teeters on banality with its overload of mythology. Well built to entertain, but dwindling out into the shallows.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 1987
Publisher: Doubleday