Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Other Book

It's been awhile since I read Robert Hicks' first novel (as far as I know), Widow of the South, a story set in and around the Battle of Franklin (Tennessee) when the McGavock's home became a makeshift hospital and the lady of the house took it upon herself to bury and account for all the dead, rather than to let them be left anonymously where they fell.

Hicks' next novel, A Separate Country, also historical fiction, takes place after the war, but in New Orleans, rather than Middle Tennessee.  While he tells his story from a number of perspectives, they are all connected to the Confederate General John Bell Hood.  According to this story, near death from the "yellow jack" that also took his wife and oldest daughter Lydia just days earlier, he calls Eli Griffin, a young man he met during the war, and asks him to help him set his story straight.  According to the narrative, he's given the draft of his war novel Advance and Retreat (which he did actually write) to Gen. P. T. Beauregard, but now has second thoughts and wants the book destroyed. In its place, he has written an account of his life since.  At the time, Griffin finds the journals of Hood's late wife Anna Marie, letters written to their daughter Lydia.  Between the two stories, Griffin is able to put together what has really passed.

The marriage of Anna Marie Hennen, the socialite daughter of a prosperous New Orleans family, to Hood, bearded, with a useless arm and a missing leg, souvenirs of his war experience.  He fails in every business he attempts, in part because of lack of business acumen, in part because of the yellow fever epidemic that keeps merchandise from reaching the city.  Instead, he loses himself in a movement--perhaps just a drop in the bucket--to help the city's black residents to escape the miasma of the city.

Hicks' characters include three childhood friends of Annamarie, two orphans--a dwarf and a young white-skinned man with just enough blood to be considered black in the post-Civil War South--and a former street tough Michel, who has become the priest Father Mike.  Hood has also been haunted by Sebastian LeMerl, a New Orleans native of French descent who served under Hood and killed ruthlessly during the war.  His one gift, killing, has not deserted him in the years since.  It is he, however, to whom Hood wants his book delivered to see if he has cleared himself of his demons.

The novel not only paints curious, interesting characters, but a portrait of New Orleans--the sounds, the smells, the action.  I could not wait to look into the life of Hood, finding that the historical details are true and his reputation as a military leader who took unnecessary risks remains intact. I couldn't help wondering how many other famous men and women, having published memoirs with much of their lives remaining, would wish to have rewritten or amended their stories.

Note that misspelling of proper names (which I will edit when I look closely at my print copy of the book) are a direct result of my audiobook experience.


1 comment:

Deb said...

Nancy, I'm from Lenoir, although I haven't lived there since I was a child. I now live in Naples, FL. Was delighted to find your blog and to have a great tour of it tonight. Come see me sometime! Deborah/TheBookishDame