Monday, August 27, 2018

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Narrated by Mary Stuart Masterson
Published September 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my audiobook checked out from the library

Publisher's Summary:
She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. NEVERHOME tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

My Thoughts:
When I first got my library card and could start getting any audiobook I wanted, I decided to look for books that I'd requested from Netgalley long ago but never gotten read in time before they archived. Neverhome was one of those books. I've mentioned before that I was raised with the Civil War as a part of my life so any book that covers that war is of interest to me, even more so when it involves women who were involved in some way. That's why I requested the book in the first place but, by now, I'd completely forgotten what the book was about. Which, I've also mentioned before, generally adds a level of enjoyment of the book for me. Neverhome was no exception.

“I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.”

When I started listening, having no recollection of what story lay before me, I wasn't even sure that the narrator was a woman. Which is sort of ironic, given that Ash (Constance) spends the rest of the novel switching identities between a man and a woman.

Like Patrick Reardon, who reviewed the book for the Chicago Tribune, I finished this book with mixed feelings. I came away feeling I'd read this story before, just from a different point of view. It felt very much like Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain to me, which, of course, is an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. It also took me a while to get used to the "voice" of the book. Mary Stuart Masterson does a fine job of reading the book once you get used to the idea that this book is really written in an historic voice; but, in the beginning, it felt so flat to me. Which sort of make me wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I had "read" it in print. Reading, instead of listening while I was driving or doing chores, might have allowed me to be more immersed in the book as well.

Not being fully immersed feels like a disservice to this book, in retrospect. I actually liked it much better than Cold Mountain (although that's not saying much; getting through that book was a major effort for me). Ash (Constance) is such an interesting character - a woman who possesses all the masculine traits her husband lacks but who chooses, on her return home, to don skirts again;  a woman who earns the name Gallant Ash but who turns out to not be a terribly reliable narrator; a woman who yearns for her husband but who is more heartfelt with the spirit of her dead mother. Hunt's descriptions of battle are both removed and horrific at the same time. Some of the images he gives readers will stay with me a good long while.

It's no surprise to find that the movie rights to Neverhome were scooped up as soon as the book was published. But that was four years ago and the movie doesn't even show up on IMDB as something that is in the works. And that's a disappointment because this book, done right, is going to make an incredible movie.

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