Title: The Widow of the South
Author: Robert Hicks
Total Hours: 15
Narrators: Paul Boehmer, Lorna Raver, Stephen Hoye and Scott Brick
First Released: 2005
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “In 1894 Carrie McGavock is an old woman who has only her former slave to keep her company…and the almost 1,500 soldiers buried in her backyard. 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 the dead, an 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.”
Comments and Critique: The Widow of the South is a novel that sneaks up on the reader. The juxtaposition of narrators is unsettling. Just when the reader feels comfortable with the direction of the novel, the shift in narration forces the reader to pay closer attention and reevaluate the knowledge already gleaned from the other perspectives. However, before one realizes it, the story meshes in a way that melts the heart while causing one to rethink previously told stories about the South during the Civil War. In other words, the forced attention and extra work are well worth the efforts for the pagentry and beauty behind Mr. Hicks’ words.
Make no mistake, The Widow of the South is not all beauty. Mr. Hicks presents an unflinching account of battle and its aftermath, from the battlefield to the hospital and life as an amputee. The stories are told with stark honesty, not romanticizing the battle or post-battle life in any way. The straightforward delivery, while rather gruesome in its descriptions, adds realism, and yet poignancy, to horrible situations. The Widow of the South demolishes every romantic ideal about the Civil War and creates a new picture for the reader – one that truly reflects that “war is hell.”
Just as the story unfolds one scene, one narrator at a time, Carrie McGavock grows and develops page after page until she represents a true steel magnolia, for which the South is so famous. Beset by grief and depression, the Carrie in the beginning of the novel is not the same Carrie McGavock at the end of the novel. As we see how the soldiers fare after the battle, we also see Carrie use her grief to help care for the soldiers directly under her care and later for all soldiers of the battle. She rediscovers what love means, what duty means, but more importantly, who she is and her unwavering values. The self-discovery and journey Carrie travels through the novel to become the ultimate Widow of the South is made precious by the backdrop of the political and social climate she faces.
Zachariah Cashwell is worth mentioning as an excellent foil for Carrie, as he is the one to force her to reevaluate her life to date and what she means to do with her future. He does not coddle her or treat her with the social propriety that is her due. Rather, in Carrie, he eventually recognizes the fact that she is as injured as he is, albeit her injuries are more subtle and well-hidden. Together, they are able to heal each other’s physical and spiritual wounds, finding a love so sweet and special that it endures across the decades.
Yet, this is not a love story between a man and a woman. The Widow of the South is ultimately a love story between those that are lost and those that are left behind. It is a reminder that one should never forget another’s sacrifice.
As previously mentioned, this is by no means an easy story. The all-too-realistic descriptions of battle and surgery can leave a reader squeamish. Also, Carrie’s narration reflects her mental state. When she is depressed and completely upset, her narration reflects her unrest. As Carrie grows in determination and gathers the cloak of responsibility closer to her, her narration takes on a much more focused aspect. Still, it is not easy wading through her muddled perspective.
I did struggle with the novel in the beginning, especially with the multiple narrators and not having the visual cues to remind me who was speaking. As I mentioned, Carrie was particularly difficult to decipher as to her meaning, and it took me a bit longer than I would have expected to be able to determine that she was clinically depressed. Eventually, I came to enjoy the different narrators. Each person lent its own uniqueness to each character, and I particularly enjoyed the care each narrator took to authenticate his or her character’s voice. I’m not certain I would have cared about each character as much had I read the book versus listened to it on audio. In this particular instance, the audio version highlighted the internal struggles of each character, making the story that much more forceful.
In the end, this is a lovely story that sheds light on a Civil War battle that does not get much attention. Its exploration of life beyond the battle, as told from the various perspectives, creates a crystal-clear picture that the battle did not end after the soldiers stopped fighting. Mr. Hicks presents his details with sharp focus, holding nothing back, and the story is better for this brutal honesty. I would definitely recommend this novel to any historical fiction lovers out there!
Mr. FTC, I borrowed this from the library!