One of the great pleasures that can be obtained from reading works of fiction are the joys of discovering books and writers that were previously unknown to us. Recently, an acquaintance of mine said that I might like a new novel called “Neverhome” by Laird Hunt. I had never heard of this writer.
Knowing the title and the author’s name was all that I wanted. I didn’t need to hear what this book was about or what anybody was saying about it. As my reading adventure commenced I sensed from the first few pages that this book could be something special. But I was also profoundly confused by the first several chapters. Allow me to elaborate.
When I select books that I might like to review I try to avoid learning much about them in advance. I simply don’t want to be influenced by the opinions of others, if I can avoid it. Obviously this is not always possible. Yet I try. Therein lies my quandary — if I wish to review a book then I’m often placed in a position where I want to persuade other readers that a book might be worth their while. How do I do that? Well, sometimes it requires revealing some crucial elements of the story. I loathe spoilers. It truly pains me to be the one who must occasionally reveal them.
For “Neverhome” I recognized that I cannot discuss this book without exposing one gigantic spoiler. But I must do so. As the story begins a farmer from Indiana has just crossed the border into Ohio. This farmer wants to enlist in the Union Army. The Civil War is raging.
Our narrator is being secretive when providing some false information upon enlistment: “I gave my name as Ash Thompson down out of Darke County.” We wonder, why is Ash pretending to be from Ohio? Ash heads into camp to begin training drills with the other recruits. This was an era of prodigious letter writing. Ash exchanges many letters with Bartholomew who remains at home on their Indiana farm.
Ash possesses superb marksmanship. This presents a problem. Bartholomew warns Ash in one letter that “if I didn’t want the curious eyes of the entire company on me, every once in a while I needed to miss.” Ash responds “that maybe it wouldn’t be so awful a thing to get noticed for what I was and sent home.”
At this point I was puzzled: is Ash really a gay man hoping to conceal this fact? Is he nervous because someone could learn about the love he has been professing in his letters to Bartholomew? You might wish to stop reading right here before this monumental spoiler: OK, Ash isn’t a fellow at all, Ash is really Bartholomew’s wife disguised as a man.
There you have it. This is the riveting tale of how this woman went to war dressed as a man. This sort of thing actually happened. She heads into battle. Some of her fellow soldiers harbor suspicions about her true identity. I’m not going to reveal any more spoilers here. All I can say is that this is one of the most stunning novels of 2014. I could not put put it down. Near the end of the story she finds herself in Yellow Springs, Ohio. That was also beyond amazing. You simply must read this book.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Friday at 1:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, go online to www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.