cover image Jarrettsville


Cornelia Nixon, . . Counterpoint, $15.95 (340pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-512-1

Post–Civil War tensions complicate the romance between an abolitionist's son and the spirited sister of a rebel sympathizer in Nixon's uneven latest (after Angels Go Naked ). Four years after the war, in Jarrettsville, Md., Martha Cairnes kills her fiancé, Nicholas McComas, and demands to be arrested and hanged. The narrative then moves backward to explain how the lovers came together: Martha falls for Nick even though he has a reputation as a scoundrel. Nick, meanwhile, thinks marriage is out of the question, especially after it's revealed that his father, killed under mysterious circumstances, has left behind a mountain of debt. Yet the two are soon engaged, and Martha's brother, who may have been involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, resents Nick's efforts to support three former Cairnes slaves, and a tangle of crossed loyalties wreak havoc on the engagement. Nixon tells the tale à la Shadow Country , with a chorus of narrators, but here the variety of voices and the disparate narrative elements—historical account, tragic romance, courtroom drama—renders unclear what kind of story the author is trying to tell, and the riveting beginning is sabotaged by the restrained conclusion. (Oct.)