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Everyone who read Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain should consider reading On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, the poetically charged fictional reminiscences of Emma Garnet Tate Lowell, circa 1842-1900. For one thing, it was Frazier's already-published friend Gibbons who, with Frazier's wife's connivance, pried Cold Mountain from his grip and got it into publishers' hands.
But beyond their Civil War setting--a first for Gibbons, who's noted for 20th-century tales--the two books share resonant Southern literary accents, characters with similarly obstinate responses to enormous grief, and a shivery sense of history's stark shadow falling across everyday events. Oprah Winfrey twice recommended Gibbons' fiction (Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman), and Walker Percy compared her to Faulkner. Oprah probably liked Gibbons's heroines for their plucky refusal to buckle under oppression--a trait shared by Gibbons herself, who triumphed over the manic-depressive illness that drove her mother to suicide.
Our heroine, Emma, shivers under the tyranny of her plantation daddy, Mr. Tate, who slits the throat of a slave who talks back to him and just might do the same to his half-dozen children. There is no enormity of which he is incapable, this bellowing Simon Legree with an autodidact's education and a self-made man's bottomless urge to rise above his raising. He is, as he might have thunderingly put it, "a pluperfect son of Satan." Only Clarice can fight Samuel Tate to a verbal draw and prevent slave uprisings on the eve of the war. Clarice helps save Emma, as does Emma's impeccable swain Dr. Quincy Lowell, who sweeps in like a cool Boston breeze to dispel the dismal tidewater miasma.
The war, alas, brings a tsunami of blood, forcing Dr. Lowell to make Emma a de facto battlefield surgeon, an occasion he recognizes by fashioning a bit of commemorative jewelry for her from a dead man's silver filling and inscribing the date with a finger-amputation tool. One aspect of Gibbons' Frazier-esque orgy of historical research for the book is an authentic feel for the grotesqueries of the period.
One craves for Emma's hubby and daddy to swap five percent of each others' respectively perfect and perfectly awful souls--the book is not big on startling character revelations. What makes it work, despite its binary morality, is the grace and rumbling life of the narrator's language. The book, which has its sometimes anachronistically enlightened head in the New South and its feet firmly planted in the past, deserves a place next to Russell Banks' John Brown novel Cloudsplitter. At points, it reads like a smarter, nonracist Gone with the Wind, only less windy.--Tim Appelo
I enjoyed this book because of Kaye Gibbon's writing ability, imagery, and its historical aspect. I felt like there should have been a glossary though. Read morePublished 3 months ago by C. J. Edwards
The book was difficult to follow at times but quite enjoyable as I enjoy reading about the Civil War, The second half of the book
slowed down and was dragged out making it... Read more
I have not yet finished. Don't feel gripped, although I like Gibbons' writing. Good topic(s) but so far nothing terribly new. BUT I AM NOT FINISHED.Published on August 17, 2013 by Jill Grubb
I enjoyed this book because it was interesting to read, had a good plot, and a great meaning. I would recommend this book for teenagers and young adults.Published on January 30, 2013 by Jackie Coston
I was about ready to toss this book aside about a hundred pages in. I was frustrated with the author starting at the characters childhood in one chapter, switching to adulthood in... Read morePublished on November 15, 2009 by K. Leask
I loved this powerful, eloquently expressed book (audio). The narration and story line will stay with me for a long time. Read morePublished on October 18, 2009 by Amazon Customer
I didn't know what to expect after the first chapter. I wasn't quite expecting it to be a novel of such intensity when I first picked it up and could not put it down. Read morePublished on August 13, 2009 by rebelmomof2
I could KISS Kaye Gibbons for writing this novel!!! This book is my ALL TIME FAVORITE of all the books she's written thus far and in my opinion HER BEST TO THIS DATE!! Read morePublished on May 14, 2009 by C. CAMPBELL-JONES