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The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
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The Widow of the South (edition 2005)

by Robert Hicks

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1,675644,270 (3.59)71
Member:Limelite
Title:The Widow of the South
Authors:Robert Hicks
Info:New York : Warner Books, 2005.
Collections:Read but unowned, Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:Fiction, literature, historical fiction, Southern fiction, Civil War

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The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

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This book held my attention. Hicks' writing had me feeling along with Carrie the hold death has on our lives. Also truly impressive how gory war is--despite how sanitized it can become with our long range weapons now.
When I found out, at the end, that this was based on a real graveyard, my admiration for Hicks' ability to make the characters come alive was even greater, as I think history is often dull. By going into the effects of the war on individual lives, Hicks let us see how insane war is.
Probably Black readers would take issue with the treatment of Mariah & Theopolis, but probably it's historically accurate.
Here's some perceptive quotes: "Living did not seem like a gift. It was a heavy weight, but it was all I had anymore."(p176)
"...women who would not acknowledge having anything to do other than to work until they died, and for whom boundless labor guarded them against the perils of unreasonable hopes and foolish desires. Dreams of love, for instance."(255)
"His power was...in the insistence of his voice. It was a low, rattling voice that he let fill the air between us, absorbing whatever we said until we were left just to listen."(363)
"The face he typically displayed for women and his inferiors--children, Negroes, farmers--would not be welcome in such a gathering, and so I watched how, with every step across the room, the architecture of his face shifted and his skin formed itself until he was transformed into the image of a benevolent man of business, offensive to no one. This was the most awful face of all" (343) ( )
  juniperSun | Nov 16, 2016 |
In 1894 Carrie McGavock is an old woman who has only her former slave to keep her company…and almost 1500 soldiers buried in her back yard. Years before, rather than let someone plow over the field where these young men had been buried, Carrie dug them up and reburied them in her own personal cemetery. Now, as she walks the rows of dead, old soldier appears. It is the man she met on the day of the battle that changed everything. The man who came to her house as a wounded soldier and left with her heart. He asks if the cemetery has room for one more.

The book is well researched and based on many true facts. That is the greatest strength as the reality of the situation and times add believability and weight to a rather light story. Where Hicks strays from the facts, the story dried up and threatens to blow away. The love element, the discovery of life and even the tangents that reconnect the main characters are not the work of a very talented writer. Not to say the Mr. Hicks cannot string together words but as a novelist, the work is amateurish at best. The story, all 400 pages of it never really goes anywhere. There is not real climax are even rising tension throughout. It simply plods through its pacing, getting the occasion burst of energy from the historical research admirably used by Hicks. Easily forgettable though an A for effort. ( )
  loafhunter13 | Jul 8, 2016 |
interesting history about a little-known place(battle) of the civil war. ( )
  carolynsuarez | Jan 17, 2016 |
Intriguing book. There is some definite gore. I gave 3 stars. ( )
  CrystalW | Dec 15, 2015 |
Intriguing book. There is some definite gore. I gave 3 stars. ( )
  CrystalW | Dec 15, 2015 |
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Epigraph
Prologue ∙ 1894: Down the rows of the dead they came. Neat, orderly rows of dead rebel boys who thirty years before had either dropped at the foot of earthen works a mile or so away or died on the floors of the big house overlooking the cemetery.
Author's Note: If God was watching that Indian summer afternoon of November 30, 1864 (and some have argued that He was not, another explanation of events), He would have been looking here: on the continent of North America; in the southeastern section of what had once been and would again be called the United States; in the central part of a state they called Tennessee; between the mountains and the great river; among the burial mounds of an ancient Stone Age culture that had known nothing of firearms and artillery; in the bend of a small river at the convergence of three bright macadam roads, where brilliant streaks of light rose and fell along a gentle undulation of hills washed in the dun and yellow and red of autumn.
Dedication
for Tom Martin, Jr. - Semper Fidelis
First words
Book 1 - November 30, 1864: Dawn: That day in 1864 was unseasonably mild for late November.
Quotations
…the smell of men overpowered me. My nose had no experience with such a smell. It could not parse its elements. The smell was heavy and sour and musty, and I took it to be the smell of that world which had been kept at bay by my house and my husband these many years.”
The newspapers were always on about how the best men of our country – and by that, they meant this new country of ours, these Confederate States of America – went off to fight and were lost forever. But what of the best of our women? How many lovely young women were sacrificed behind the plow in those years? Oh, I’m not saying that a woman oughtn’t guide a plow, although I shudder at the thought of my own incompetence at the reins. It’s not the plowing, you see; it’s the elimination of everything BUT plowing, the possibility that you could be anything BUT someone who walked behind a mule and gathered in the snap beans.
My breathing came harder and my face flushed, as it always did when I began to feel unmoored, or upon the discovery that there was yet another thing under the sun that I had not understood. Or both.
Those men were the chains that bound the living. They were the missing whose absence shackled the survivors in place, people afraid to move on for fear of being gone for their sudden return. They drew the living back to the war, back to that battlefield over and over and over again, reenacting its rituals and its skirmishes until they all would be dead. … They will have to come to Carnton. They’ll be safe there. I will mourn them if no one else will.
Someone had to do it, to be that person. I was the woman they wrote the letters to; this house was the last address of the war. Now it was the final resting place of the dead, or at least almost 1,500 of them, and they could not be left alone. I had resolved to remember so others could forget. In the forgetting, I prayed, would be some relief, some respite from the violence and bitterness and vengeance.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446697435, Paperback)

In an Author's Note at the end of his book The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks tells us that "when Oscar Wilde made his infamous tour of America in 1882, he told his hosts that his itinerary should include a visit to 'sunny Tennessee to meet the Widow McGavock, the high priestess of the temple of dead boys.'" Carrie McGavock, The Widow of the South, did indeed take it upon herself to grieve the loss of so many young men in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which took place on November 30, 1864. Nine thousand men lost their lives that day. She and her husband John eventually re-buried on their own land 1,481 Confederate soldiers killed at Franklin, when the family that owned the land on which the original shallow graves had been dug decided to plow it under and put it into cultivation.

Before the battle begins, Carrie's house is commandeered for a field hospital and all normal life is suspended. Carrie is anything but normal, however. She has buried three children, has two living children she pays little attention to, has turned the running of the house over to her slave, Mariah, and spends her time dressed in black walking around in the dark or lying down lamenting her loss. She is a morbid figure from the outset but becomes less so as the novel progresses. The death going on all around her shakes her out of her torpor, but death is definitely her comfort zone.

One of the soldiers who is treated at the house is Zachariah Cashwell, who loses his leg when Carrie sends him to surgery rather than watch him die. They are inextricably bound in some kind of a spiritual dance from then on. Their reasons for being drawn to each other are inexplicable, apparently, because they remain unexplained, and when Cashwell tells Carrie he loves her, she beats him nearly to death because she loves him too. At least, that is the reason Hicks gives. He violates that first caveat given to all writers: "show us, don't tell us." There is doubtless something deeply flawed in Carrie and screamingly symbolic about her behavior; it is surely elusive. Too bad, because Carrie was a real person whom Hicks lauds for her compassion and ability to grieve without end. Then, he throws in this gratuitous "love story" and confuses the issue. Carrie's relationship with her husband and children remains unexamined. Hicks is better at describing death and "the stink of war" than he is at life. If you read War and Peace and loved all the war parts and were bored senseless by the peace parts, this is your cup of tea. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:22 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A story based on the true experiences of a Civil War heroine finds Carrie McGavock witnessing the bloodshed of the Battle of Franklin, falling in love with a wounded man, and dedicating her home as a burial site for fallen soldiers.

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