THE HORNET'S NEST
With this intricately detailed novel of the American South and the Revolutionary War, President Carter becomes our first chief executive, past or present, to publish a work of fiction. By concentrating on Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas from 1763 to 1783, Carter takes a fresh look at this crucial historical period, giving life and originality to a story usually told from the viewpoint of the northern colonies. There's a large cast of characters, but the focus is on the families of Ethan and Epsey Pratt and neighbors Kindred and Mavis Morris, backwoods Georgia homesteaders who are swept up, albeit reluctantly, in the revolution against the British. Among many other subjects, Carter covers military tactics, natural history, 18th-century politics, celestial navigation, the causes of the war, the sexual practices of both Indians and pioneers and how to tar and feather a man without killing him. Fascinating tidbits about well-known historical figures abound: "After some New Jersey militia actually mutinied [George] Washington decided to set an example of stern discipline; he forced the top leaders to draw lots, and the winners shot the losers." Carter's style leans toward the academic ("Mr. Knox, what's the difference between Whigs and Tories?"), but readers who can put up with the occasional lecture will learn fascinating truths about this exceedingly brutal war and the stories of the men and women who lived and died in the course of it. Those seeking a riveting prose style would be advised to look to more experienced fiction writers, but anyone who has ever wondered about the difference between a Whig and a Tory will find this an interesting and informative read. (Nov. 14)
Forecast : Carter's status as the only president to publish a novel may not last long, as it is rumored that Bill Clinton may be working on one as well. In the meantime, the curiosity factor will draw readers, but Carter's flat style will discourage many who are lo oking for a fat, historical novel to sink into.