From Publishers Weekly
The author of the Vietnam classic Meditation in Green
(1983) here channels Liberty Fish, a fictional member of a real, still-prominent upstate New York family, for a gruesome Civil War picaresque à la Candide
. Roxana Maury, the daughter of Carolinian slaveholders, turns against the "peculiar institution," disowns her parents, Asa and Ida and marries northerner Thatcher Fish, who shares her abolitionism. Their son Liberty is born in 1844, and his liberal education is enhanced by his parents, and the oddball metaphysicians and charlatans with whom they surround themselves. When war breaks out, Liberty joins up, participates in a series of horrific battles, deserts and travels South to his mother's ancestral home, Redemption Hall. There, he finds his grandfather, Asa, practicing ghastly homicidal experiments with his slaves. As Union forces approach, Asa abandons his invalid wife and more or less kidnaps Liberty, and the two ship aboard a blockade runner, bound for Nassau. Liberty functions more as Gump than protagonist, and ultimately learns Candide-like lessons through similarly unlikely adventures. Roxana's background and the (unconnected) doings of a curious Uncle Potter in Kansas occupy a large portion of the story; the grotesque piles on top of the macabre in depicting slavery; highly humorous banter flows throughout. This book, rich in an appropriately fatuous, overblown period style, is the morbidly comic counterpoint to Doctorow's The March
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Is it a curse or a blessing that the work of idiosyncratically original writers prompts the most divisive reviews? There's no preordained slot for Steven Wright (Going Native
; Meditations in Green
), so his fictions have to be read with an open mind and, perhaps, a predisposition for his "dark, hallucinatory world" (New York Times
). The main point of dissension centers on whether Wright has balanced the strains of parody and the grotesque carefully enough. Critics also disagree about whether the author's verbal prowess, sometimes so powerful, overwhelms the story. In the end, with some critics' accolades set against others' criticisms, most critics are impressed enough by the author's accomplishment to warrant it a success.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.