Friday, March 13, 2015

Home. Where the heart is? Or not.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt
As a member of my local Library board, I was asked for a book review to include in the newsletter. In discussing what books we have in our library collection versus what books I've read and reviewed, Neverhome was suggested since the author lived in the local area for much of his childhood and had donated a copy of this, his most recent release, to our library. My interest was peaked, especially after skimming some of the goodreads reviews. (I think I've mentioned before I try NOT to research a prospective read too much since I always want to determine what my own unique reaction is to each book I read with as little interference as possible.) I distinctly remembered picking up this book in the store when it was first released and feeling as if this could wait until later... And as I read I kept wondering exactly to what the title might refer. As I completed reading, for me, the title referred to the fact that it is possible to feel as if you really don't have a home, even if you are there...

Hunt’s writing style is definitely one of the most unique and original I have encountered. To say this is “spare prose” is an understatement. In as few words as I believe could be used, Hunt manages to clearly delineate the characters, set the mood, and depict the environment. Although I found the writing to be a bit "choppy" in the beginning, I did adapt to it. There were several times when I had to reread to determine whether this was the present-day, past, or a dream/dream-like state. I agree with those reviewers who say this is like no other historical fiction novel. (And I’ve read a few!) I can easily envision it successfully transformed into movie format. You can watch the book trailer on Hunt's website

It is set in the US Civil War and explores many issues, particularly those related to the basest of human behaviors. It always scares me to realize humans can, have, and still do, perpetrate such heinous acts upon each other. Although I'm sure the details are quite accurate as depicted, I still prefer a bit of an uplifting aspect to anything I read. For example, My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (I loved that book and really must post a review soon!) depicts many of the same physical aspects of the Civil War, but I feel her book leaves me with much hope for humanity, whereas I didn't feel that way upon completion of Neverhome. Rather, I felt as if there was virtually no hope, and I don't like to feel that way.

Interestingly, Hunt depicts how war and the resulting psychological damage affects not just those fighting in a war, but their friends and family, as well as the general populace. I believe few of us in the US truly understand the suffering of each person living in a war-torn country; most of us have never experienced it. Gender roles and boundaries are explored, as well as familial relationships, particularly marriage and parentage. Then there is the power to corrupt, as it were—from local political office holders to Army Colonels and Generals.

Although Constance/Ash appears to be a reliable narrator, she proves to be untrustworthy as she exposes her own lies and/or restates her “memories” as different from those originally relayed to the reader. Her life experiences include both sides of any given role throughout: male and female, favored and faithful soldier to traitorous and hunted fighter, righteous prisoner seeking justice to repentant confessor. Sadly, in the end, she commits the ultimate betrayal upon herself.

I felt this work to be rather bleak and dreary overall, but also found it to be extremely thought-provoking as I am left pondering... Have you read any of Hunt's books? This one? What are your thoughts? I would be curious to read another of his books to determine if I felt the same way about his writing style, etc., though that is not at the top of my TBR list for now...

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