Neverhome/Laird Hunt: Reflections

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Also: it's not a Federal crime to put something in someone's mailbox, if you tell them, right? OK bye."

Wrote Kelly Simmons. In a text message. After she told me to be sure to look for the setting sun. While I trained back to Philadelphia from DC.

Not a crime, I thought. Not when it's Kelly Simmons.

It was dark when I outted Kelly's secret: a copy of the Civil War novel, Neverhome, by Laird Hunt. She'd read it not long ago and raved. She has exquisite taste. She knows what I love. She knows we often love the same thing (see Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See). There it was.

First sentence: "I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic."

Oh, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, I thought. I'm a-gonna love this book. And so I read. Couldn't stop reading. Had soup to make, cranberry sauce, potatoes. Had gifts to (skim through and then) wrap. Had my gorgeous son home with me, but I just sat there reading. The story of a woman who goes to war as a man. Who emerges as a song and a myth. Who starts out with some tenderness in her heart and who hardens over time, temptation, warship. She's known as Ash Thompson. She can shoot a squirrel at many feet. She can crawl herself out from under the heavy load of a fallen tree. She can confuse most but not some. She can help a one-armed man carry the photographic plates from which a greenhouse will be built. (Oh, that image, one of my favorite ever found in a novel.) And she will never, really, get home again. She will tells us her story in her broken-poem way, even though she isn't trying for poetry, not even close. Poetry is just how her words come even when she's talking about the rut of damage on her arm:

The flesh of my arm crept each day closer and closer together. Like two ragged companies didn't know yet they were fighting for the same side.

Or what happens in a ruined asylum when she's trusted with a razor:

I shaved him, then shaved his friend, and every now and then after I got called on to scrape a face. Mostly it was guards but twice or three times there was a prisoner in the mix. These were big-bearded things attached to some flaps of skin, some ruins of shoulders, some piles of bones. When I shaved them up there was anything left to them. You could of just dug at the dirt and kicked them straight into the hole. They were happy, though. Smiled and winked.
Neverhome is a book magnificently well made, but that doesn't mean the story isn't hard to live with. The ending that you see coming isn't easy to take. But you take it because it's smart and vivid and so real that I started reading again at 3 AM last night and finished this morning so I could tell you, on Black Friday, that if you have to go out buying things, buy this book for a friend.

I'd have bought it for Kelly Simmons. But she's already read it.


Victoria Marie Lees said...

Excellent writing. Love the premise, although it seems sad. Thank you, Beth.
I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with family and friends. ~Victoria Marie Lees

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