Friday, September 26, 2014

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband and donned the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a traitor, a madwoman, and a legend.   - From the dustjacket

It's a fact that many women disguised themselves to take active roles on both sides of the Civil War.This slim volume--fewer than 250 pages long--tells the story of one such woman over two years' time. Ash narrates the story in the vernacular of time and place, a device that doesn't always serve the flow of the novel well. I found that it sometimes became difficult to follow unless I read it aloud to myself. 

First person narratives generally make me feel like I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with the person speaking, but I never developed that connection with Ash (nee Constance). I just couldn't quite get a grip on who she was in any of her contexts: wife, daughter, soldier.  It's never fully explained why her husband Bartholomew didn't serve, although of the two, she was the one most equipped for such. There certainly is no suggestion that she did so out of any fervor for the Union stance; it's more that the idea of such an adventure was irresistible to her. The author suggests some tension between her and Bartholomew that predated her decision to fight, but we are never made privy to that. 

Her tale is told over the course of two years, and they are full ones, indeed. She sees battle, escapes capture by mercenaries, imprisonment as a traitor, and the long walk home to Bartholomew when her fighting days are over. Ash/Constance is not a person to whom life happens: she takes charge of each situation with grit and sheer will. I wish I'd liked her more. 

*** of *****