Books by Mississippi Writers 1996-2010
Fiction By Howard Bahr (Henry Holt hardcover; $25.00, ISBN: 0805059725, 5/2000; Picador paperback; $14.00, ISBN: 0312280696, 5/2001) A brilliantly woven Civil War story about the "jubilant" year (1865) following the supposed cessation of hostilities, from the author of the highly praised (and rather similar) debut novel The Black Flower (1997). The latter unfortunately all but drowned in the wake of the spectacular success enjoyed by Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. This time around, Bahr ought to nab the hosannas and prizes, for he has produced a stunningly imagined and lyrically written chronicle of the return home (to war-ravaged Cumberland, Mississippi) of Gawain Harper, a former schoolteacher (and an Arthurian seeker) who had reluctantly enlisted as an infantryman in the Confederate Army, in order to earn permission to marry his sweetheart, widowed Morgan Rhea. Morgan's father, devout secessionist Judge Nathaniel Rhea, had demanded that all Southerners do their duty. Having done so, Gawain returns to find his own family decimated, the Rheas dispossessed and powerless, and to learn that the Judge has set him another task: to kill "King Solomon" Gault, a rabid white supremacist ("the gentleman farms without niggers") and self-anointed leader of the vigilante rangers who had murdered Morgan's sister and her husband, a Union sympathizer. But this is only prelude to a thrillingly articulated tragic romance that tells several convoluted stories, artfully juxtaposed, and creates a remarkably vivid cast, including Gawain's fellow survivor, Harry Stribling, self-proclaimed "philosopher" and ironical observer of the South's stubborn vision of its own "chivalry"; imperious, passionate Morgan and Gawain's flinty Aunt Vassartwo of the strongest female characters in the whole range of historical fiction; Union Army officer Michael Burduck, haunted and driven by his memories of slavery's horrors; hideously deformed, obsessed slave- catcher Molochi Fish; and the aforementioned Gault, an avenging demon whose thirst for slaughter precipitates a harrowing climax. The shadow of Faulkner looms over an intricate webwork of festering secrets, conflicting passions, and ancestral guilt. No matter. The Year of Jubilo is a triumphant giant step forward for Bahr. ―Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.