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Neverhome by Laird Hunt: Lady Soldiers and All the Stoicism You Could Want



Little, Brown sent me Neverhome on a whim, probably because it's about a lady dressing up as a Union soldier and going off to fight. Yeah, that sounds like it's in my wheelhouse. I honestly didn't have high expectations for it, because I've never been THAT into the women-disguising-themselves-as-men thing, but when I started it I basically couldn't put it down.

Think The Sisters Brothers and True Grit, but set during the Civil War. Those types of narrators are my favorite. Calm, unruffled, just there to tell you their deal and be done with it.


So like the opposite of this

"Gallant Ash," as she becomes known, fights in battle after battle and makes the Civil War much more real than it's usually portrayed, as here it's seen from the point of view of a soldier instead of one of the now near-mythic generals and their overarching plans for the war. It's not "[Massive number of people] died at Bull Run," it's someone who's in the middle and it's chaotic and people are dying and you no longer know where you are but you know you can't run because that's desertion.

The prose is simple but with the sort of detail that makes it seem real.

I gave my name as Ash Thompson down out of Darke County. “Where in Darke County?” they asked me, and I told them, even though I could see straight off they weren’t listening, that where was in the northwest corner of that fine county on my Daddy’s farm. After they had cracked on my teeth and whistled at my thick fingers and had me scrape my thumb calluses across the wood tabletop, they gave me my blues. A week later, when they saw I didn’t mind work and hadn’t run off, they handed me my firearm. It was a Model 1861 muzzle-loading Springfield rifle with flip-up sights and percussion lock, and they said you could use it to kill a man a quarter mile away.

 I'd definitely have some questions for Mr Hunt about the ending (WON'T TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS IT'S A SURPRISE), but I was genuinely delighted by the overall prose style and setting. Brief encounters Ash has throughout the book give a more complete view of the war and the way it impacted a variety of people than one would think possible in so few pages. And again, it's done simply, which I love. Give me five minutes of two people talking on the side of a road; I don't need them to go on a cross-country adventure of 700 pages so the lesson from their relationship can be taught (*cough* kind of looking at you, Donna Tartt, no matter how overall magnificent your novel might be). 

+10 points for being set in the 19th century and +5 for a lady protagonist.

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