Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Confederate General Rides North

When I first read a review of Atlanta author Amanda C. Gable’s 2009 novel The Confederate General Rides North, I immediately knew that I would have to go to Amazon and order a copy.  I’m glad that I did. Ms. Gable has written an outstanding work of literature.

The “Confederate General” referenced by the title is eleven year old Katherine McConnell, an only child from Marietta, Georgia who spends most of her free time studying Civil War history and fantasizing about putting herself into her history books as a Confederate General.  The novel is set in the late 1960s.  Ms. Gable has done a masterful job of evoking the time and place of the South in the late sixties.

Georgia Author Amanda C. Gable

Kat’s beautiful but erratic mother, Margaret, packs up one day, throws Kat in the car, and heads north to where she is from in Maine.  Katherine fantasizes that the trip is a Civil War campaign and that she is a Confederate General leading troops north.  Gable has brilliantly woven the real history of the Civil War together with the story of Katherine and her mother.  Through a series of flashbacks, Gable has also done a great job of slowly revealing the dark secret which haunts Katherine’s mother.  To begin with, Katherine does not understand that her mother is seriously emotionally disturbed.  As they travel from one Civil War battlefield to the other re-living the campaigns of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson,  Margaret’s mental illness reveals itself in more pronounced ways as the campaign continues, finally reaching its high water mark at Gettysburg.  Gable’s portrait of Katherine’s mother, Margaret, is simply brilliant.  This has to be the best portrait of a person suffering from bipolar disorder which I have ever read.

I cannot say enough good things about this novel.  It is a fun read, but it is also serious literature.  As other reviewers with similar experiences have said, the young Civil War buff from Marietta, Georgia also resonates with my personal experience.  I’m about ten years younger than Katherine McConnell, but my experience growing up in Norcross, Georgia, also a suburb of Atlanta, is very similar to that of young Katherine. Growing up, I visited the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield and the Atlanta Cyclorama.  I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time at the Fox Theater in down town Atlanta.  Like Katherine, I grew up hearing stories about my Civil War ancestors.  Like the 1960's Atlanta described by Ms. Gable, the Atlanta of the 1970s that I grew up in was saturated with Civil War history.  I grew up feeling like Sherman had burned Atlanta just the year before.  I had a copy of the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton and poured over the pictures and practically memorized it.  And I remember souvenir Rebel and Yankee hats at every gift shop at a tourist destination (I had one of each.)

If you haven’t read The Confederate General Rides North, don’t wait, go to Amazon right now and get a copy.  You’ll be glad you did.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Irving Wallace's THE PRIZE

The Prize (1962) is prolific author Irving Wallace’s magnum opus on the Nobel Prizes.  Reading a novel by Irving Wallace is like eating potato chips, you know that it's junk but it tastes good and you just can’t quit.

Despite the painless lesson on the history and process of awarding the Nobel Prizes, like every other book Irving Wallace ever wrote, The Prize is a giant soap opera.  The Prize tracks the story of a group of Nobel laureates as they are notified of their prizes and travel to the award ceremony in Stockholm.

The book centers on Andrew Craig, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.  Craig’s wife died in a car wreck a few years before.  Craig blames himself for her death and has sunk into alcoholism.  There are plots and subplots and subplots of subplots.  And there are lots of characters, some of which serve no particular useful purpose other than to allow the main characters to respond to them.  Since this is an Irving Wallace novel, there is, of course, SEX.  Lots of SEX.  This was some pretty racy stuff for 1962.

Claude Marceau, part of a French husband and wife team which has won the Prize for chemistry, is having an affair with an attractive fashion model.  His wife begins an affair with a man that she does not really have any feelings for in order to make her husband jealous and win him back.  Andrew Craig apparently never saw a woman he didn’t try to sleep with - except for his homely Sister In Law that wants to marry him, but whom Craig finds repulsive.

In many respects, The Prize was a conventional spy novel.  The Physics Laureate, Max Stratman, is wanted by the Soviets.  An elaborate plot is developed to convince Stratman to defect.  This plot involves Stratman’s niece, Emily, who was sexually abused by the Nazis in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II, and her father who everyone thought was dead.  Of course, Craig has the hots for Emily and pursues her.  Poor Emily is depicted as trying and failing to get over her emotional problems with sex.  However, Wallace’s alter ego Andrew Craig is there to help her.

Like most Wallace novels, The Prize is an entertaining old pot boiler.  If you tackle it, be forewarned, at 600 pages  it’s about 200 pages too long.  But all, in all, old Irving’s pot boilers still hold up pretty well.

 The prolific Irving Wallace at work (1916 - 1990)