This book is probably the one – of all my readings thus far this year – that I have the most ambivalent feelings about. The second half of the book went much faster for me (reading speed-wise) than the first half. I’m a bit hung up on why this should be so. Is the second half better than the first, or is there just more action as the book approaches its climax just as Inman approaches his home? There is also the not to be underestimated factor that I actually focused on this book during the past 36 hours or so. This likely added some continuity for me when compared with the short spurts of time I grudgingly doled out to it during the first 29 days of the month. As is usually the case, the real answer is a combination of these (and probably unknown other) factors. Bottom line is, though, that I’m finished, and I have to admit I’m a results-oriented guy… :-). I’m not going to give away plot details in this post, so no spoiler alert, but I will say that if you want every mountain, valley, tree, plant, road, rock, river, run, rill, or rivulet in Appalachia described In detail, this is your book.
The book is often described as a “Civil War novel,” but I’d have to take exception to that. The Civil War is only the backdrop before which the story of Inman and Ada – and the land of Western North Carolina itself – can be told. The novel is more about the transformation of people. Both Ada and Inman change drastically during the time of their separation. Not just their character changes, but they both undergo the physical changes that only true hardships can effect.
Another theme that seems to run through the novel is that of what I guess I’d call “wounded-ness.” Many, if not all of the major characters are wounded in some way, most physically, but some emotionally or psychically as well. The country itself (here I do not mean the land, but the concept of the nation) is also wounded – something the reader really comes to appreciate as he follow Inman On his journey homeward. It is notable as well that there are several “healers” throughout the book: Ruby (Ada’s friend and ‘savior’), Inman himself, the old goat-herding woman that Inman meets in the mountains, and “The Power of Love” itself when Inman and Ada finally come together.
Also of note are the similarities this story has to the epic poem, The Odyssey of Homer (and do I really have to say “of Homer?” Oh well, I already did, and I’m not taking it out). After finishing the novel, I read a little about it on line, and found one interview with the author wherein he acknowledges that he re-read The Odyssey as part of his research. I agree that Inman is heroic and endured a long journey home after a war, but he is no Odysseus. And I guess we can be both grateful and disappointed by that. If I had to know one of them personally, I’d choose Inman. I feel he is more heroic in the modern sense, and does not mirror the ancient’s cunning – and self-serving intelligence. Nor his infidelity. Can you say “Calypso?”
I also was reminded while reading this book that many soldiers from the Civil War walked home (regardless of the enormous distance sometimes involved). Didn’t Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind also walk most of the way home upon his release from the Federal POW camp? I am reminded also that the “only ghost I’ve ever seen” (I won’t retell my personal ‘ghost story’ here, but since it is, after all, Halloween, I’ll include a link to my earlier post describing it in detail) was likely a Civil War soldier repeating his long walk home.
I must finish by saying how disappointed I was by the ending of this book. I don’t know how others felt (perhaps you can add a comment here? ) but I was uncharacteristically angry…