Neverhome (NetGalley ARC)
release date: Sept. 2014
Ash Thompson sets off down the road to fight Mr. Lincoln’s War. The family farm in Indiana was an idyllic place–a barn with a hayloft, a grove of trees, horse corral, “good chairs”. A blissful place for a young couple to start their lives together. But one of them had to defend the Republic: Ash was strong; her husband Bartholomew was not. That’s right–her husband. Because Ash was really Constance, and she was fighting her past as fiercely as she would fight the rebels.
So with bound chest and hat pulled low, she sets off and soon joins a band of other men and boys looking to enlist. Ash arm wrestles, drinks whiskey with them, sleeps under the stars with them and finally reaches a
Union camp by a river where she is rewarded with a muzzle loading Springfield (“and they said you could use it to kill a man a quarter mile away.”) and a shovel to dig latrines.
Ash sets himself apart as a quick shot and a hard worker–there’s no task he doesn’t undertake with single-mindedness. He becomes legend when he breaks rank to scale a tree to cover a woman who, overcome with fervor at seeing the blue boys marching past, immodestly rips open her bodice. Later that night, a fiddler starts in with a new tune around the campfire, “Gallant Ash went up the tree and helped a sweet old girl along …”
I was slow to warm up to Ash and his story; it moved slowly. Until author Laird Hunt whispers of Ash’s past and I was drawn in to wonder at the mystery of Ash’s mother’s death and whatever pain had come between Ash and Bartholomew.
Hunt tells Ash’s story lyrically–even the horrors she experiences take on a kind of haunting beauty. Her friendship of sorts with her unit’s commander is a thread that weaves through her story to the last and the respect they showed each other was genuine. When Ash is taken prisoner the novel was a bit reminiscent of Paulette Jiles’ Enemy Women and I don’t as a rule like novels with similar plot lines. But the novel’s last few pages bring Ash and Constance together as they fight off each of their demons, only to lose and win the very same fight.