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Unmentionables by David Greene

Unmentionables (edition 2010)

by David Greene

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263415,071 (4)3
Authors:David Greene
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Tags:gay romance, American Civil War, slavery

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Unmentionables by David Greene



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I was recently introduced to this book. It sounds intriguing enough that I have put it near the top of my TBR pile.
  sharontillotson | Feb 1, 2011 |
This is an ambitious novel that grabs the reader's attention with a compellig story about two pairs of lovers in the South during the years of plantation slavery. The characters are well-developed by author David Greene as he is a skillful writer with a fine creative bent. The pace of the story is slow yet appealing and the drama grips the reader. Kudos to author Greene for the subtle yet honest way he handles two controversial topics slavery and homosexuality. If you feel like leisurely reading a finely crafted novel about an historical period of time that is still fascinating, pick up "Unmentionables" and you won't be disappointed. ( )
  barb302 | Sep 28, 2010 |
"Unmentionables" is a novel of gay romance, which happens to be set against the backfrop of the American Civil War. It explores themes of sexual identity, race relations and gender roles, as well as the meaning of family and the redemptive power of love. The story concerns families on two farms/small plantations in western Tennessee in the period from 1860 to the spring of '62, and a traveling artist, a Quaker from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in their lives. Some of the chief characters include the lovers Jimmy and Cato, the former a field hand and slave of the Holland family and the latter a house servant and slave of the Askew plantation. Cato is also the son, begotten of rape, of his "owner", Augustus Askew, a stern and ill-tempered planter, and the half-brother of William Askew, a directionless young man and heir to Augustus.
William is infatuated with Dorothy Holland, a remarkable young woman who isn't content to accept the traditional place assigned her in antebellum society. A woman of extraordinary courage and empathy, she not only resists notions of feminine passivity but challenges the institution of slavery and opposes the rebel cause when the war comes. Outraged when she learns that her lover, William, has joined the Confederate army, she soon bends him to her will, causing him to decide on a course of secret noncompliance while remaining an officer. She is aided in this campaign by Erastus Hicks, the painter who had visited both her family and the Askews before the war. He had painted portraits, and a Biblical scene, for both families, employing Cato, secretly, as one of his models. Captivated by Cato's beauty and gentle manner, he had befriended him and taught him to read, again secretly as this was a violation of state law. Hicks, a dedicated pacifist, continues to correspond with Dorothy after the outbreak of war and then with William, encouraging him to avoid firing any shots with lethal intent in battle. Cato's friendship with Hicks arouses the jealousy and suspicion of Cato's lover, Jimmy who doesn't trust white folks in general and who fears he will lose Cato to the sophisticated artist.
The story of these intertwined lives and how they surmount barriers of race, slavery, social status and social convention is told with sensitivity and insight into the workings of the heart, with a goodly measure of raw lust thrown in. The narrative is mostly told with the exactness and formality of language of nineteenth century literature. In its style and contrivances of plot it resembles the work of Jane Austen, whose "Pride and Prejudice" plays a small but important part in Greene's novel. There is a departure from literary propriety in the course dialogue of some of the slave characters, and the sex scenes and homoerotic imagery, which read like passages from Victorian pornography, all the more startling for their contrast with the generally genteel tone of the novel.
One of the stronger elements of the novel is Greene's depiction of bonding between people and animals. With Venus, Scout and Donahue we find lovable characters that transcend barriers of species. Those of us who love our animals as members of our families will respond to the parts played in the story by these beloved critters.
Provided that the reader enters "Unmentionables" with the understanding that it is a love story and is willing to set aside questions of plausibility or historical accuracy, all will be well. However, those readers who were expecting to read an historical novel with careful attention to historical detail or a searching examination of the political and social issues of the times will be disappointed. The war serves as only a sort of theatrical prop in this story. Greene needs to do more research in military history to make Lieutenant Askew's brief career as an officer, especially his part in the Battle of Shiloh, more convincing. And if one reads "Unmentionables" with the expectation that it will deal with the war and slavery with the sort of grisly intensity that Kevin Baker brings to his harrowing account of the New York City draft riots in "Paradise Alley", then one will find Greene's novel insufficiently horrific, almost bland by comparison.
Also, it is curious that in a novel that tells the story of men engaged in the pursuit of the "love that dare not speak its name" the problems this would pose for them in the world go almost without recognition. While Greene does a fair job of treating the subject of racism, the existence of homophobia is practically ignored. But this is a story not just of love, but of the triumph of love and perhaps Greene doesn't want certain ugly realities getting in the way. Greene's America of 1862, while not exactly a paradise of enlightened thought, looks much better than the land of violence and passionate hatred that it actually was, nor does it much resemble our own country of hysteria, fear and bigotry in the age of the Tea Party. Instead, Greene's novelistic America dreams of us at our loving and most tolerant best, when we are guided by the "better angels of our nature." ( )
1 vote ChuckNorton | Sep 9, 2010 |
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Field hand Jimmy meets Cato, a house servant from a nearby plantation. Jimmy, who despises whites, mistakes Cato for a white man. But soon he learns that Cato is only half white. Cato is the illegitimate son of plantation owner Augustus Askew. With time, Jimmy's fascination with Cato grows into romantic love. Unmentionables is also the story of Dorothy Holland, whose parents own Jimmy. Dorothy does not want any man to control her life. When she falls in love with Cato's half-brother, William Askew, she must persuade him to agree to her terms, and to betray his role as a Confederate army officer. On June 25th, 2011, Unmentionables was awarded the bronze medal for Gay and Lesbian fiction at the Book of the Year awards at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. .."Think Gone with the Wind meets Brokeback Mountain, one of the best novels of the year for any grown-up." --Kindle Nation Daily.. .. "Surpasses the majority of Civil War novels by bringing together two enthralling love stories. Superb historical fiction with a contemporary angle; an enlightening look at the hidden elements of our past." --ForeWord Clarion Review… (more)

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