Mark Grisham & David Donaldson
State Street Press, 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
n this well-researched novel, we are presented a vast panorama of how it was in the South towards the end of the Civil War. Soldiers fighting at Gettysburg have maybe never been so realistically presented. The treatment of those suffering mental effects from the fighting is detailed, and we live through the tortuous procedures they must undergo.
here are many characters in
, perhaps too many, but the plot revolves around Dr. Joseph Bryarly, two brothers who are soldiers from Mississippi, a family of Irish immigrants and a beautiful mulatto prostitute determined to make a better life for herself. The doctor is an American who has spent years tending to mental patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital (nicknamed
) in England. At President Jefferson Davis' request, he has returned to America to become Chief Superintendent of Wingate Asylum in Richmond, Virginia, an unspeakably poorly administered hospital for war criminals and the miserable, wretched mentally insane.
he multiple strands of the story are spun out separately and only come together at the end. Because the scope of the novel is so vast, we often have descriptions of scenes, enormously well done, to be sure, but the glue tying the scenes together is missing. The novel would also be much richer if we got more into the characters. They lie pretty flat on the page. For example, it would have been good for us to know better what was going on in the mind of the doctor and why. We get far too little about Mary Beth and Sally.
espite these cautions, the novel is well worth a read, especially for Civil War buffs and those interested in the history of the treatment of the mentally ill. There is much to ponder on both subjects in this work. In addition, the authors have stipulated that a substantial amount of the proceeds the book earns will help
(impactms.org), a nonprofit that helps needy and neglected children and families.
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