Even the period romance has been invaded by the troubled new view of American history. This one opens circa 1863 on an idiosyncratic gaggle of ""fancy ladies,"" cozy enough in their Gettysburg brothel, but a little forlorn in the diminished trade of the early Civil War years. They miss men, and men they get, but not quite as they wished it: the Battle engulfs them, and they find themselves willy-nilly turning Joy's Place into an impromptu field hospital. The book's about how Miss Joy and her ladies and their boarders, a ne'er-do-well actor and an old alcoholic doctor, rise reluctantly but handsomely to the crisis (which sobers but never completely quenches their strong spirits). It's also about the ghastly-vivid detail of war, the self-assertion of women, the revealed dark strain of violence in young America, and the initiation of Stevie, Joy's earnest young daughter. Thus the genre's syrup, tedium, and henhouse silliness is clumsily grafted onto a really engrossing authenticity, a vitality and seriousness which ultimately prevail.