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Ghost Riders Hardcover – July 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Bestselling North Carolina writer McCrumb (The Songcatcher, etc.) returns with another epic ballad of a novel, a multi-tiered Civil War story that links past and present with an otherworldly twist. Tough, resilient Malinda Blalock is dismayed when her husband, Keith, leaves their Appalachian mountain farmstead to join up with the Confederate Army in hopes of earning money. Not content to wait out the war at home, spitfire Malinda cuts her hair and enlists herself as "Sam," Keith's younger brother. Their tour of duty is cut short by a deliberate scheme to get themselves discharged, and they move on to become do-gooder outlaws, known throughout the Appalachians. This story is enmeshed with the elaborately reimagined life of historical figure Zebulon Baird Vance: his early success in law and party politics, his time in Congress, his stint as commander of North Carolina troops, and his election (and subsequent re-election) as governor of North Carolina during the Civil War. Running parallel to these story lines is a dilemma plaguing present-day, Civil War re-enactment actors camped out in the Appalachians. As they restage a violent piece of Southern history, ghosts of Civil War soldiers begin appearing at their campsites and also to area residents. It's up to locals Rattler and Nora Bonesteel, both possessing the gift of "sight," to quell the ghosts' hostilities. McCrumb writes high-spirited historical fiction, her lush, dense narratives shored up by thorough research and convincing period detail. Her latest is another harmonious, folksy blend of history and backwoods lore.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The prolific McCrumb's latest Appalachian "ballad novel" takes on the Civil War through the eyes of mountain dwellers past and present. Two of the narrators are actual historical figures, both Union sympathizers surrounded by Confederate neighbors: Zebulon Vance, a poor mountain boy who worked his way up to become governor of North Carolina during the turbulent war years, and Malinda Blaylock, a plucky young woman who followed her husband off to war by posing as a man and later joined him as an outlaw. Their stories are rich in detail and serve to illustrate the divisiveness and far-reaching consequences of the war, but the novel loses its power as it intersperses snapshots of present-day citizens and Civil War reenactors stirring up the spirits of soldiers long dead. The "patchwork quilt" storytelling that has served McCrumb so well in the past is less effective here, where the different threads of story never quite tie together. Civil War buffs or McCrumb devotees, however, may overlook the holes and enjoy the atmospheric historical sections. Carrie Bissey
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The lives of the three historical figures are hard, full of loss and painful. But they don't feel sorry for themselves, and neither does the reader. Nonetheless, for two of them, the unresolved bitter feelings from that war provide plenty of reason for them -- and others -- to ride again with some unexpected results.
This book delves into our willingness to romanticize the past. It shows how one modern soldier can get sucked into a war from which there is no escape, simply because he can't find his way in a more banal modern world. And it leaves one asking: If I were invited to ride with these Civil War soldiers, how would I answer?
While there is no criticism implied in the novel towards the re-enactors, the stories of the horrific events that occurred during the War certainly make the "weekend warriors" seem disrespectul of the people that lived through those times. While one knows that atrocities are committed in wars, it was educational to learn that, sadly in this war, it came down to neighbor against neighbor. This account of the mountain area in war is much like the affect of hurricanes on the Appalachian Mt.; no one knows much about the consequences of these two events on the people living in the mountains.
Sharyn McCrumb's writing technique is most interesting! In the development of the plot and characters, the story progresses from the events of the Civil War to the present and back again. The episodes in the present reintroduce characters developed in other S. McCrumb novels-- so it's like running into an old acquaintance.
Storytelling is, obviously, Ms. McCrumb's forte; she makes it hard to put her novels down until you've read the last page.
Because of reading this novel, I discovered the North Carolina Third Mounted Infantry. By pursuing my hunch, I then learned about my great grandfather's participation in Kirk's Raiders.
While this was not exactly what one wishes to learn about an ancestor, I gained a new appreciation for the man Major William Wallace Rollins later became, as told by his obituary and other articles from the Asheville, NC, newspaper from 1925.
The copy of Ghost Riders I purchased from Amazon will give my siblings an opportunity to enjoy a well written book as well as some family history!