The Silent

Jack Dann, Author, Randolph Estes McDowell, Afterword by Bantam Books $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-553-09716-0
Dann's maudlin but sporadically engaging second novel (after The Memory Cathedral) treats the Civil War as a phantasmagoric experience and takes the form of a ""therapeutical"" memoir set down (in 1864!) by 13-year-old Virginian Edmund McDowell. After seeing his mother raped, both his parents murdered and his home burned by Yankee marauders on March 23, 1862, the boy retreats into speechlessness and a cloak of imagined invisibility, wandering for 75 days in a mute post-traumatic stupor through the battles ranging around Winchester, Va. The account is burdened by the repetitive, ill-defined symbolism of a ""spirit dog,"" the ghost of a slave named ""Jimmadasin"" and an enigmatic icon known as ""baby Jesus."" Innuendoes--that the famously rigid, religious Gen. Stonewall Jackson tipples on the side, and that McDowell's hero, Col. Ashby, is a pedophile--lend the tale neither depth nor verisimilitude. Delirious variously from fear, dysentery, ague and a primitive smallpox vaccination, the protagonist is raped by a Yankee malingerer and given his heterosexual initiation (and a dose of the clap) by a worldly teenager who consorts with runaway slaves and deserters. After witnessing oral sex between a mapmaker and his wife, he eventually is taken to the bed of his hero, Col. Ashby. No number of rapes and pillagings can bring this tedious, ahistorical novel to life. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
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