McCAMPBELL'S WAR by Robert Herring


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McCampbell's War"" is declared when octogenarian Proffit McCampbell returns from the hospital to find the forces of progress preparing to run a highway over his family's backwoods graveyard in Tennessee. Herring's second novel (his first, Hub, 1981 owed a rather large debt to Mark Twain) begins sluggishly but soon soars on the wings of an increasingly sure talent, describing the life of the legendary Scots mountain people of the South. McCampbell is a mountain man: reticent, rugged, partial to moonshine, and fiercely loyal to the tiny plot of graves he tends way up a mountain canyon. In his absence, an old enemy, Piper, the local Faust (he runs an automobile junkyard, a flea market, and fathers cretins) has been bending a gang of young boys to bad ends. Juel, the boy with a conscience, meets up with McCampbell and provides the requisite Huck Finn ally. In the end, McCampbell sets off a landslide that swallows both himself and Piper and blocks the road. Herring's writing is uneven, sometimes rhapsodic to the point of silliness--""Now the sun, a great blemished peach. . . fled up the ribbed and seamed ridges like a hurried priest rushing to evensong, tucking his vestments after him""--but the next paragraph usually redeems him. The novel's other problem: McCampbell, enjoyable though he is to watch taking on the modern world, wins his battles too easily; he's also oddly characterless--when Piper seduces a childhood girlfriend of McCampbell's, we get his thrashing of Piper but nothing of his emotions. Still, Herring amply fulfills the promise of his first novel here; it's a moral/environmental story as clear as white lightning and, though not nearly as potent, it has a nice bouquet and leaves no hangover.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking