cover image Canaan


Donald McCaig, . . Norton, $24.95 (426pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06246-5

This well-wrought sequel to McCaig's Civil War novel Jacob's Ladder (2003) covers the fractious years between Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Custer's defeat at Little Big Horn. To illustrate that complex, ugly era, the narrative follows the changing fortunes of a variety of personages—a Virginia plantation owner's family and former slaves, a Yankee carpetbagger and a railroad magnate among others. The character who best captures the contradictions that McCaig is after is Edward Ratcliff, top sergeant for the 38th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, who journeys from slave to free man to member of the South Carolina Santee Indian Tribe. Before the war, Ratcliff was known as a "hincty nigger," but his white army commander treats him with respect. After travels north and west, as a scout, a trail cook, cattle driver and sharpshooter, Edward looks for a context that affords a measure of esteem. Eventually he meets and marries She Goes Before and takes a Santee name, Plenty Cuts, because of his bullwhip scars. But as the U.S. continues the persecution of Native nations, robbing them of their natural resources, Ratcliff can no longer sustain his family. Eventually he takes a job as a scout for Custer at Little Big Horn, and his fate is sealed. McCaig's latest is authoritative and occasionally profound. (Mar.)