Oldest Living Confederate Widow: Tells All

Allan Gurganus, Author Alfred A. Knopf $21.95 (718p) ISBN 978-0-394-54537-0
For more than half of its very considerable length, this remarkable first novel is a gem: entertaining, engrossing and memorable. Narrated by 95-year-old Lucy Marsden in a distinctive voice brimming with colorful images and sassy, ribald asides, it tells of her marriage at 15 to 50-year-old Civil War veteran ``Captain'' Marsden, who, permanently traumatized by events he witnessed when he and his best friend enlisted as teenagers, makes a lifetime career of reminiscing about the conflict and collecting weapons to memorialize it. Feisty, irreverent and with a caustic tongue--even in recounting the most tragic incidents, her outspoken opinions crackle with dark humor--Lucy distills the essence of the war, evokes the atmosphere of the small town of Falls, N.C.--interspersing social commentary about the South, its women and the institution of slavery--and draws the portrait of a singular marriage. Garganus has a magic way with words: on page after page, one is tempted to reread the brilliant images that pepper Lucy's monologue. Some scenes have a gripping intensity, especially the section on the burning of the Marsden plantation by Sherman's troops and the accidental immolation of beautiful Lady Marsden. The slide from engrossing to overwritten is almost imperceptible, but when, midway through the novel, Garganus tries to fill in every last detail by way of chapter-long digressions--the childhood of Lucy's mother and the courtship of Lucy's parents, the reminiscences of a wonderfully evoked ex-slave Castalia, etc.--he creates a series of dazzling character vignettes and set pieces that are fascinating in their own right but tend to overload an already long narrative. By the end, Garganus has somewhat overplayed his point that ``history'' always has a personal impact; in the meantime, he has given us a story that, whatever its defects, is an unforgettable reading experience. BOMC main selection. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1989
Release date: 08/01/1989
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-394-58141-5
Hardcover - 30 pages - 978-0-573-66299-7
Paperback - 736 pages - 978-0-449-91169-3
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-8041-9826-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-8041-0643-6
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