Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Shout in the Ruins

Title:  A Shout in the Ruins
Author:  Kevin Powers
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2018. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0316556475 / 978-0316556477

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "By 1870, not even four full years after the clerk of Chesterfield County, Virginia, officially recorded Emily Reid Levallois's, rumors of her survival and true whereabouts abounded."

Favorite Quote:  "Didn't anybody ever tell you that seems ain't is?"

This story, covering a century, is set in ruins - literally and figuratively. Told in alternating chapters in two time periods, the book is set in the South the aftermath of the Civil War and its continuing repercussions decades later. The connecting thread throughout is the Beauvais Plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia. The connection appears at times to be a relatively thin thread constructed to convey the varying perspectives all in one place.

I chose to read this book because of its setting in the time period immediately following the Civil War. I have read the history and stories of slavery. I have read about the Civil War. The theory of what happened at the end of the war is easily described. The North won. The South lost. Slaves were emancipated. The reality, however, is complicated; this is a period of history about which I have not read much. What happened after? How did the promise of freedom translate to reality? Did it? Has it yet?

The tale this book tells is a sordid and dark one, but it is a narrowly focused story. It is about the greed and cruelty of one man; it is about a desperate marriage; it is about one family and those who immediately surround it. As such, it becomes not as much about the historical context as the plot surrounding this one family.

The context is the larger one, and through the different characters, the book picks up on different perspectives on the time period. Anthony Levallios is the cruel and greedy opportunist. His wife and her father are the plantation owners fallen on hard times. Nurse and Rawls are the slaves seeking to carve out a life of their own. George is the one who decades later searches for answers to his family history.

The only thing binding the characters and the different story lines together is the plantation. As such, the overall image for me doesn't quiet come together. I see the pieces, but it does not coalesce into a composite image.

The unfortunate thing is that I get lost in this story. Many books successfully tell stories over two time periods. Although centered on this one plantation, this book just has a lot of characters, a lot of story threads, and a lot of movement back and forth. Some of the connections also are not clarified until well into the book. Overall, it becomes difficult to follow because the different threads are left off and picked up so many times. It also becomes challenging to determine what details might be crucial and what characters to remember because they may make an appearance later.

For me, part of the issue may be due in part to the extensive descriptions and the seemingly ornate language of the book. The language seems to add to the feeling of too much, especially in a relatively short book.

For these reasons, it feels like I never quite get out from the details to the bigger picture of the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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