Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: "Neverhome" by Laird Hunt

"Neverhome" by Laird Hunt
First published in 2014
243 pages
My rating: 3 stars
Image from Goodreads

The cover is lovely, the prose was absolutely wonderful, and the storyline -- of a woman who poses as a man to fight in the Civil War -- had potential. But "Neverhome" just didn't quite do it for me.

Constance Thompson is haunted by some hefty tragedies, like her mother's suicide and a baby who died the day it was born. On top of that, she's married to a weak-willed man more suited to tending house than shooting a gun. With something to prove -- to herself most of all -- she decides to dress as a man and represent her farm and the state of Indiana in the war.

She vows never to turn and run from anything, and truth be told she's pretty badass. Constance is smart, cunning, brave and strong, and she puts many a man to shame. But her strengths don't keep bad things from happening to her, and she'll have to rely on all her wits to make it back home to Bartholomew and their little plot of Indiana farmland.

"Neverhome" is written as if Constance is telling us her tale and Hunt has done a brilliant job with the prose. There was just so much voice to this book and the writing was filled with beautiful metaphors and turns of phrase. I copied down several passages that caught my attention. For instance:

"He did not look grand and gray any longer. He looked old. Like the fist of years had found out his face and struck a sure blow."

"She had a small voice. About the size of a popcorn kernel only got heated halfway at the bottom of the pot."

But despite the fairly interesting story, the fascinating Civil War atmosphere and the stellar writing, I had a really hard time connecting with Constance. Even though she was admirable in many ways, Constance wasn't very likeable. And I never really cared what happened to her; the most I could muster was mild curiosity over whether she'd make it home alive or not. And the ending! Talk about a cherry on top of a shit sandwich -- Constance's story is just so damn depressing.

"Neverhome" was fairly short and I loved the writing as well as the depiction of life as a Civil War solider, but it's hard to recommend a book I was never really invested in. There are several other new-ish novels about women who put on pants and fight in the Civil War, like "My Name is Resolute" and "I Shall Be Near to You." I can't vouch for how good they are, but you might give one of them a try instead.

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