Published by Little, Brown on 9/9/2014
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“I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.” In less than twenty words, Laird Hunt opens Neverhome with a perfect image of his protagonist’s undeniable strength. With little more than a nod, Constance leaves behind her farm, name and husband to become Union soldier, Ash. Though the book is sprinkled with pensive moments spent reflecting the past with her mild-mannered husband Bartholomew, Ash is light years away from the dutiful wife or picture of femininity we so commonly associate with the time period.
But she isn’t alone in her strength. All of Neverhome‘s female characters, including the looming presence of Ash’s mother, offer surprises in their willingness to turn their back to convention. Hunt populates his novel with women who repeatedly break the mold of society’s expectations, allowing their choices to run along the controversial decisions made by men rather than holding them to an angelic standard. Through this, we’re given complex female characters instead of the one dimensional belles that so often fill stories from the Civil War era.
“I wanted to take up the dead man’s head and cradle it but I did not do that and knew that that kind of a thought was another thing I was going to have to learn to kill.”
Enhancing the complexity of the story is the narrative used to tell it. From the first blunt sentence to the novel’s brilliant closing words, Ash’s voice is an absolute force. Not quite dialect, rather the language of someone more accustomed to working than reading and writing, it can be difficult to follow. But it soon becomes clear how carefully placed each word is; every one meant to tumble over the next in a successful effort to make Ash sound genuine rather than stereotypical and mocking.
It’s that voice that has gripped me since I turned the last page, asking questions and finding ways to remind me just how much this book has to offer in its slim volume.