Heaven and Hell

Front cover has 1 image suggesting 1800s western plains,1 suggesting Reconstruction-era South.Heaven and Hell is the novelistic equivalent of a film with “a cast of thousands” but no leading man or woman.

The novel is the third volume of John Jakes’ North and South trilogy and shouldn’t be read without reading the prior volumes, preferably with little time between the readings.

Of the leading men of volume one, Orry Main is dead and Charles Hazard emotionally deadened by America’s War Between the States.

The men’s family, friends, and enemies are scattered from South Carolina to California.

Jakes attempts to follow what happened to all characters, jumping in a single chapter from character to character, state to state, often separating the fictional events with quotations from newspaper headlines and other contemporaneous sources.

Jakes’ featured characters, who even in the trilogy’s first volume were scarcely more memorable than Danielle Steel’s, are as distinctive as anatomy class skeletons.

The history in the novel, particularly the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and its terror tactics, is the most interesting aspect of the book.

Unfortunately, Jakes finishes by restoring his leading characters who survived the war to a semblance of normality. The one exception is the blacks, whose post-war situation is as bad in different ways as the pre-war one.

Heaven and Hell by John Jakes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ©1987. 700 p.
1987 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni


In Andersonville depressing facts become depressing fiction

MacKinlay Kantor’s story of  the Confederacy’s infamous prisoner of war camp  opens the day Ira Chaffey learns of plans for a POW camp on land adjoining his.

In the tent city that was Andersonville Prison Camp, captured Union soldiers wait out the war
Historic photographs shows life in the Andersonville prison camp

It ends with Ira walking through the empty Andersonville camp site after the Confederacy’s defeat.

Between the two events, Ira and his daughter Lucy are forced to helplessly endure the stench of the camp.

 Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

T.Y. Crowell, 1955. 767 pages. 1955 bestseller #3. My grade: B+.

Most of book is biographical sketches about individual soldiers, some real, some fictional.

Some were decent people before the war, others were villains.

In Andersonville, each is placed in conditions that bring out the worst in everyone.

Prisoners didn’t even have shelter from the elements, let alone adequate food, water, clothing, medical care.

Kantor’s work is well-researched, but not academic. Some of the individual vignettes are superb.

As a novel, however, the work is a failure.

For one thing, there are simply too many characters to keep track of.

And Kantor doesn’t use quotation marks, so it’s hard to keep track of who is speaking in a given scene even if you recognize the character.

Worst of all, Kantor’s graphic depiction of the extent of human depravity is overwhelming.

While novels don’t require happy endings, they should leave open the possibility that different choices would have lead to different outcomes.

Andersonville doesn’t do that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

So Red the Rose Gives Back Home View of War

Thorns on a rose bush
Roses have thorns

So Red the Rose is a Civil War novel on which that label seems misplaced.

Stark Young looks at the war from the perspective of the people who stayed home. Instead of sweeping battle scenes, readers see women sweeping carpets, trying to keep their families and traditions alive.

Young writes the story as a series of scenes in the lives of the residents of two plantations along the Mississippi, Portobello and Montrose.  They learn about events from newspapers, letters, and gossip from someone whose cousin knew someone who was there.

You won’t catch these people crying in public.

It’s just not done.

When their homes are looted, their livelihood destroyed, their lovers and sons killed, their traditional courtesy requires the Southerners to sustain a semblance of normal life: To give in to misery would make others uncomfortable.

The novel is not a consecutive narrative. To understand what’s happening, readers have to imagine each scene, much as they would if they were reading a play.

Although So Red the Rose demands a lot from readers, it gives a unique perspective on ordinary life in a country at war.

So Red the Rose
By Stark Young
Charles Scribner’s’ Sons
431 pages
1934 bestseller # 3
My Grade: B+

Photo credit: Thorns by kriegs

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni