All’s fair in love and war in this sprawling epic about a family weathering the Civil War.
When the conflict begins, the Gordon family–prosperous hog farmers in the Missouri Ozarks–figure they’ll sit it out. But then them Yankee devils descend on Ripley County at the behest of â€œSt. Louis bosses,” murdering, pillaging, burning and raping as they go. â€œ â€˜Would you think there’s men so utterly evil as to shoot up a church meeting?’ ” wonders a shell-shocked survivor. â€œ â€˜Nobody but a bunch of damn Yankees would do a thing like that.’ ” To defend their farms and womenfolk, Gordon sons Stuart and Riley join up with Confederate partisans, but the fighting takes a distant backseat to the clan’s romantic entanglements. The battles occur in fleeting background paragraphs amidst the main business of flirting and bickering, dances and socials, endless strategizing about how to approach a girl or catch a man and a constant routine of childcare and kitchen chores. Stuart is torn between town whore Sue Ellen and haughty beauty Lorena, whose sister Millie sets her cap for Riley. Meanwhile, the Gordon sisters suffer heartbreak at the hands of handsome, no-account cads: Kate pines for–and dreads–the return of the charming snake of a husband who abandoned her, while Emely weakly fends off the seductive advances of a local heartthrob. The story is marred by its naive pro-Confederate politics and a bloated, meandering narrative, but Webb (The Judge’s Daughter, 2004) paints a convincing and detailed–if somewhat glamorized–portrait of rural Southern life in the Civil War era.
A shapeless but often engrossing period melodrama.