three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
By: 
Robert Hicks
user_rating: 
0

A-WidowSouthCarrie McGavock has already lost three children to typhoid fever when the Civil War comes to her door. Over 7,000 confederate soldiers die in the battle of Franklin; their corpses litter the land surrounding McGavock’s plantation. Her home, Carnton, is transformed into a field hospital for the survivors, one of whom, Zachariah Cashwell, forms a strong attachment to his hostess. When a wealthy neighbor of McGavock’s threatens to modify the battlefield for agriculture, Carrie joins the fight to preserve the memory of the soldiers.
Warner Books. 432 pages. $24. ISBN: 0446500127

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat makes Hicks stand out as a significant new voice is his unflinching and profound portrait of death. . . . In our time, serious contemplation of any fatality seems to have become unfashionable, which makes Hicks’s willingness to obsess about the loss of thousands both brave and essential." Jenny Minton Quigley

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Hicks’s prose places the reader squarely in middle Tennessee in the mid-19th century. He skillfully weaves secondary characters and subplots into his greater tale, and his depiction of Franklin as killing ground and charnel house is precise." Mark Dunkelman

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he larger story of the war is never sullied with the rhetoric of generals, apologists or politicians. That the war came to Franklin one day is enough for Hicks, and tracing the repercussions of its arrival on the lives of the people in the town and a few of the soldiers who fought in its battle provides him all he needs to craft a story worth telling." Tobin O’Donnell

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s a compellingly written novel, an implicit tribute to so many who never saw the December dawn and to Carrie McGavock, who dedicated the rest of her life to their memory. . . . It tells a story that Mr. Hicks is clearly right in wanting us to remember." John Gamino

San Jose Mercury News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Widow of the South doesn’t have the imaginative depth and lyrical eloquence of Cold Mountain or the mythmaking epic sweep (or the sentimentality and racism) of Gone With the Wind. But what it does have is a shrewd author who knows and loves what he’s writing about, and that helps give his book its narrative drive and emotional impact." Charles Matthews

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Many of the book’s flaws grow out of Hicks’s insistence on keeping the focus strictly on Carnton and the McGavocks and on trying to remain faithful to the historical record. . . . [W]hen he delves into the drama of romance, he tends to founder, and the plot very nearly sinks under the weight of its own seriousness." Clay Reynolds

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Melodramatic, a little overwrought, and needing pruning—but it’s a first novel. And Hicks’s accounts of Confederate army life, the Franklin battlefield, and the hospital are vivid, appropriately bloody, and thoroughly horrifying." Bill Campbell

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"His foray into a contrived love story loses the ground the authenticity of his narrative has triumphantly taken. He obeys the formula. . . . And yet, its weakness as a novel in no way diminishes its power as a story." Thornton Sully

Baltimore Sun 1 of 5 Stars
"The Widow of the South skips clumsily from perspective to perspective. . . . Hicks reveres McGavock and many other characters, yet fails to invest them with the complexity of actual human beings. His accounts of the fighting leave no Civil War battle cliché unturned." Mike Pride

Critical Summary

Hicks has a head start on most first-time novelists: he’s got a powerful story to work with. Based on real-life Civil War events, the Nashville song-publisher-turned-author presents this tale of platonic love and patriotic gore with an assured storytelling instinct. A few critics take issue with his agenda (Hicks serves on a board attempting to preserve what’s left of the Franklin battlefield), but the San Jose Mercury News feels the "propagandizing mostly doesn’t show." The book is flush with romantic prose and explicit battle scenes; most reviewers prefer the latter to the former. However, there are flaws (distracting subplots, too many points of view, indistinct characters based on both real-life figures and composites) that led to the love-it-or-dislike-it split among the critics.