Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. Historical Fiction Review

Warner Books. Published 2005.  ISBN 0-446-50012-7; ISBN 0-446-57882-7 (lg. print)

The Widow of the South is Robert Hicks' debut novel.  This historical fiction novel is based during the American Civil War, in particular, the bloodiest battle of the war, at Franklin, Tennesse, where over 9,200 men were casualties or died.

Robert Hicks based Widow of the South on the true story of a woman, Carrie McGavock, who played a pivotal role after the Battle of Franklin. 

Carrie is a emotionally damaged woman who has suffered great personal loss in her life.  As the novel commences, she is essentially a recluse mourning her losses.  The Battle of Franklin is about to change her entire life.

Her plantation, Carnton, is taken over as a field hospital for wounded Confederates soldiers who have been claimed as prisioners of war by the Union Army.  Gruesome operations and desperate dying men in need of compassion and comfort force Carrie to face life.

Carrie becomes attached emotionally to one of the prisoners, Zachariah Cashwell, even though she is married.  This unrequited relationship dominates throughout the novel.

Times passes and, finally, all the soldiers in her home have either passed away or been taken by the Union Army.

Carries tries to initiate a social life in the town, but finds great difficulty in connecting with others.  A prominant citizen, portrayd as a heartless businessman who will do anything for the sake of money, decides to plow the field where approximately 1,500 soldiers lie in shallow graves to plant crops.

This is untenable for Carrie and through a series of events arranges for the soldiers be dug up and reburied in a grove on the Carnton plantation.  She and her ex-slave keep a meticulous diary of each man's burial site.

This historical fiction novel has a great premise, but the author didn't quite make the characters come alive.  I found it difficult to understand their thought patterns and conversations.  Much of Carrie's and Zachariah's actions and thoughts were vague and left me wondering.  This, unfortunately, kept jerking me out of the book to reread passages in an effort to fathom what was happening.

Curiously, it is the author's notes that finally allowed to me to connect with Carrie McGavock.  Hicks provides a summary of the Battle and its importance, besides the horrific loss of life under the command of General Hood, to the conclusion of the Civil War.   He quotes from letters and memoirs of commanding officers.  A biography of Carrie's life, portraits, pictures of the plantation house and the cemetary are included.

Robert Hicks might be better suited to writing a biography than historical fiction.  His author's notes proves he is capable of conveying facts in a compelling manner, however, his fiction writing does not achieve this goal.

Rating:  ** (Okay)

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