Everyone who read Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain should consider reading On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, the poetically charged fictional reminiscences of Emma Garnet Tate Lowell, circa 1842-1900. For one thing, it was Frazier's already-published friend Gibbons who, with Frazier's wife's connivance, pried Cold Mountain from his grip and got it into publishers' hands.
But beyond their Civil War setting--a first for Gibbons, who's noted for 20th-century tales--the two books share resonant Southern literary accents, characters with similarly obstinate responses to enormous grief, and a shivery sense of history's stark shadow falling across everyday events. Oprah Winfrey twice recommended Gibbons' fiction (Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman), and Walker Percy compared her to Faulkner. Oprah probably liked Gibbons's heroines for their plucky refusal to buckle under oppression--a trait shared by Gibbons herself, who triumphed over the manic-depressive illness that drove her mother to suicide.
Our heroine, Emma, shivers under the tyranny of her plantation daddy, Mr. Tate, who slits the throat of a slave who talks back to him and just might do the same to his half-dozen children. There is no enormity of which he is incapable, this bellowing Simon Legree with an autodidact's education and a self-made man's bottomless urge to rise above his raising. He is, as he might have thunderingly put it, "a pluperfect son of Satan." Only Clarice can fight Samuel Tate to a verbal draw and prevent slave uprisings on the eve of the war. Clarice helps save Emma, as does Emma's impeccable swain Dr. Quincy Lowell, who sweeps in like a cool Boston breeze to dispel the dismal tidewater miasma.
The war, alas, brings a tsunami of blood, forcing Dr. Lowell to make Emma a de facto battlefield surgeon, an occasion he recognizes by fashioning a bit of commemorative jewelry for her from a dead man's silver filling and inscribing the date with a finger-amputation tool. One aspect of Gibbons' Frazier-esque orgy of historical research for the book is an authentic feel for the grotesqueries of the period.
One craves for Emma's hubby and daddy to swap five percent of each others' respectively perfect and perfectly awful souls--the book is not big on startling character revelations. What makes it work, despite its binary morality, is the grace and rumbling life of the narrator's language. The book, which has its sometimes anachronistically enlightened head in the New South and its feet firmly planted in the past, deserves a place next to Russell Banks' John Brown novel Cloudsplitter. At points, it reads like a smarter, nonracist Gone with the Wind, only less windy.--Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The writing was so excellent in this book, and the descriptions so real, that I felt as if I KNEW what it was like to have lived during the Civil War. Read morePublished on March 4 2004
I read four chapters of this book. Then I threw it out the window. In all God-honesty, this book is now sitting in the weedy abandoned lot beside my house. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by Katherine Mason
On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon is Kaye Gibbon's first literary historical fiction entry. Set in the South, like all her books, this one takes place during the era of the... Read morePublished on Aug. 17 2003 by Peggy Vincent
I recommend this book without hesitation. It was an absolute treat. The characters are rich and full of life and the dialogue is remarkable. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2002 by Tasha Blakney
This book was highly recommended to me and it was a big disappointment. I found it difficult to follow the timeline. Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2002 by M. ONeil
I read this book on tape and it is one of the only readings I've ever heard that I felt really brought the book to life. Read morePublished on April 9 2002 by K. Champagne
On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon is a novel that explores the deep roots of our country and our families. Read morePublished on Nov. 28 2001 by Sandra Mitchell
I strongly suggest getting the audio version of this book, if traveling is in your future. It is wonderfully narrated by Polly Holliday (Flo on the TV sitcom Alice). Read morePublished on Aug. 28 2001
Other reviewers will summarize the plot for you -- let me just say that this is an extremely well-written book, with beautiful and haunting imagery, realistic dialogue and... Read morePublished on April 27 2001 by Michele T. Woodward