NASHVILLE 1864 by Madison Jones


The Dying of the Light
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 A somber, spare portrait of the Confederacy's twilight, as witnessed by a 12-year-old. The plot has the simplicity of a folk tale. Steven Moore sets out to find his father, a soldier, on the eve of a great battle, and becomes an eyewitness to the carnage. Jones, the author of seven previous novels (To the Winds, 1996, etc.), has the measured cadence of southern voices down perfectly. The book is purportedly a memoir written by Moore decades after the events it describes, as he seeks to make sense of what he experienced. In December 1864, the ragged, shell-shocked Confederate army under Gen. Hood moves to confront the Union forces outside Nashville. Steven's younger sister is seriously ill, his mother exhausted, their farm, close to Nashville, menaced by Union forces, so he decides to bring his father, an officer in Hood's forces, home. He takes Dink, one of his family's slaves, with him. Dink, who is Steven's age, views the trip, at first, as a curious adventure. But their encounter with a black Union soldier, who tells Dink that he is free, confuses and disturbs him. The boys reach Hood's army just as the battle of Nashville begins. Steven discovers that battles are entirely unlike his imaginings: They are confused, bloody, terrifying events. Dink is killed, and a wounded Steven begins a hallucinatory journey with the retreating Confederates. These scenes have a raw power and harsh originality that set them apart from most recent fiction about the War. The narrative, though, suffers by seeming so entirely partisan. Dink is a cipher. The grown Steven's rhapsodic celebration of the Confederate soldier, and his defense of slavery- -while perfectly believable in this character--diminish the book's power somewhat. The story would have benefitted from some authorial distance. It seems, finally, too partisan to be entirely compelling. A flawed but intermittently powerful work.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1997
ISBN: 1-879941-35-X
Page count: 144pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997