Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Women have been in combat probably as long as there have been wars. But they used to have to disguise themselves as men in order to fight. In the Civil War alone, there are 400 some documented cases of women dressing as men and going off to fight, and sometimes die, for their cause. The reasons these women did this were as varied as the women themselves. In Laird Hunt's captivating and elegantly written novel, Neverhome, one such woman left her home and her husband to fight for the Union.

Constance is the stronger spouse so she is the one who dons the uniform and marches off to war leaving Bartholomew at home to tend the farm. And so Constance becomes Ash, wife becomes soldier, woman becomes man. Narrating her own story, Constance/Ash tells of her skill with a rifle, the hard life and rough conditions that the soldiers endure even when not fighting, the horror and brutality of war, the relationships that spring up between the men, including the petty fighting, the jealousy, and the stealing, as well as the fellowship, and of her own emotional remoteness from her fellow soldiers and from the terrible events she witnesses. Ash reflects not only on her current situation but also looks back at the way her mother's life and death left an indelible mark on her own life and consciousness.

The writing here is vivid and absolutely incandescent. With the novel entirely narrated in Ash's steady and sometimes seemingly emotionless voice, readers are immediately drawn into her head, wanting to understand her motivations and feelings of duty and desire, and allowing them to experience the gritty reality of the Civil War through her. She details battles from a dreamy remove, gets sent to the hell of wartime prison, and wanders through the carnage of both battlefield and makeshift field hospital. Hunt deftly renders history on these pages without falling into the anachronistic in order to draw a strong, complex woman. Ash is compelling right from the start but the seeming inconsistencies in her character in the end make her just that much more fascinating and change the reader's perception of the events of the book. The novel as a whole is quite short but it still manages to be epic in feel as it turns the convention of the quest tale on its head. Beautifully written and imagined, this is a spectacular and unusual Civil War novel, one that readers of historical fiction and of literary fiction will be so glad they've read.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I didn't totally love this novel while I was reading it, but it has stuck with me in ways I wasn't expecting. I think the dreamy tone kept me at a distance while I was reading, but I still think about it all the time.

  2. Thanks for the review. This novel sounds like a book I would enjoy. It has two of my favorite elements, historical fiction and literary fiction.

  3. I've seen this one on a few people's lists, and while I didn't initially pay much attention, your review has changed my mind. Going on the TBR. Thanks for the review!


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