GRANT'S WAR by Ted Jones


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An ambitious first novel that attempts to explore the Civil War career of Ulysses S. Grant on two levels: a recounting of actual events during the war years by those who were there, and an interpretation of those events through the eyes of a young scholar attempting to write a book--during 1917-20--about the controversial general. This is a most unusual--and sometimes rewarding--approach, but it is ultimately unsatisfactory. The basic structure here consists of young Arthur Kelly doing research: interviewing a series of old veterans (a doctor half slumbering in a hotel-lobby chair, for example, or survivors from both sides sitting and watching the Galena River flow by day after day), observing blacks and whites playing out the remnants of the slavery system in Vicksburg Square, visiting the great battle sites. The stories told by these various fictional characters help illuminate familiar events and point up Grant's brutal genius as a military leader, but they are too often dispassionate--as the memories of the elderly frequently are--and lose their dramatic impact as a result of interruptions by the narrator's questions or comments. The story is at its best when Kelly becomes directly involved--as in a brief but memorable section that shows how his experiences as a combat officer during the closing months of WW I helped him better understand his material. The War Between the States still has the capacity to move us, but by electing to chronicle most events from a position one step removed, and by interposing his fictional historian between himself and his readers, Jones has created an unnecessary barrier and is left with a story that is too often passionless and uninvolving.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Presidio