on August 8, 2003
I have never written a review for any book, but then again, no book has ever affected me the way this book has. As a Southern woman, weaned on stories of life in the South, I was so affected by this novel that it touched my heart like no other. Lucy Marsden seems like a favourite Aunt of mine now, one that has told me the story of her long life and it's highs and lows, and I feel, after reading the book, that I have lived that life with her. There is a sadness in the last pages as you realise that, in many ways, Lucy won't be with you much longer. I have come back to this book time and again, and have lost count of how many times I've re-read it. I seem to find something new each time! I know it is not a book for everyone, but those who take the time to read it and to melt into the pages as Lucy's guest and audience, you will be rewarded in ways most novels promise but can't deliver. It is a story that sizzles when it hits the fat, and any reader who allows themself the pleasure of reading this book will feel forever changed, as if they, too, have lived a lifetime with Lucy Marsden. The story of her youngest child's death never fails to move me; likewise the story of 'The best Christmas pagent ever' always makes me laugh. You want to be her champion and her best friend, and when she speaks near the end of what her perfect quilt would be comprised of, you can see each and every fabric in your mind's eye, and mourn the fact that they are all gone with time, and will never make that perfect quilt. It's the one book I recommend to every passionate reader, and the one that I call my favourite out of many wonderful books.
on November 15, 2002
Here I am, writing this review of a book I read at least 7 years ago. But, like any great book, I still remember Lucy Marsden.
(Like I remember David Copperfield, Don Quijote, Natty Bumpo, etc.)
Perhaps Gurganus's novel doesn't belong with those other classics, but I remember Lucy!
I agree that the book should be shorter. That doesn't change the fact that you should read this story.
The most powerful impression that this book gives is that the flowing of time separates us from other generations but there are messages and memories preserved for us to experience and from which to learn.
When Lucy compares the confederate veterans hanging out in the town square to the vietnam vets hanging out in that same town square, the effect is dizzying. We came from previous generations and others will come from us, live in our houses, drive down the same streets we do, etc. Lucy serves as a reminder that time passes but things don't necessarily change.
The novel's portrayal of history is indeed special.
on February 25, 2002
Lucy Marsden presents a unique perspective on the South as it once was. This book is a real testament to the past - one woman's perspective. Lucy's memories are long lasting and span an eternity reaching from the horrors of the Civil War right through to the frightening sight of the Challenger disaster. Though Lucy is 99 years old, blind, and confined to a charity home, her memory and insight remains astute.
Lucy Marsden's narrative speaks vividly of her experiences as a child-bride, married to a crazed but earnest vet, of motherhood, of gender-dominance, and, of course, of love-making, the historic "battle of the sexes". She speaks of the popularity of love-making right through its title changes and shifting styles of the times, but still coupling into the same old shenanigans. She muses over how strict she and her man looked by day, and at church, and how wild were their night actions in their own "legal playpen for adults".
Beware of feeling sorry for yourself, she advises. Its mighty tempting. War itself is a form of pouting and self-pity. She empathizes with the soldiers when confronted with the dire statement "South Loses It" and questions where the soldier is when his war is yanked from under him: he lies caught in the middle with no idea of how to behave.
Lucy exposes a gallery of characters, aristocrats & free men, sharecroppers & slaves, blacks and whites, and offers her own unique perspective on folks such as General Lee and President Lincoln. In her own inspired, ungrammatical voice, she tells it all - as she saw it and as she lived it.
This book is a "must read" for all who want a plain-folks perspective on life in the Old South. I enjoyed it. I think you will, too. Lois Bennett
on April 3, 2004
I picked this up because I'd heard it was good. It's not.
Very few characters are fleshed out -- I know who Ned was; I have a good bead on Lucy's father; even Baby came alive for me. All three of these characters are minor; the two major characters, Lucy and the Captain, are still not solid images in my mind. If I can't picture the narrator, it's not good.
The rest of it was just terrible. This book was way too long, and filled with stories that the narrator (Lucy) didn't care about -- so why should I? As I read it, I kept thinking "is something going to happen soon?" I made it to page 600 only because I HAD to (the person who recommended it to me is one of my closest friends, and I had to be able to talk about my progression through the book with her.) I couldn't even finish the last 100 pages (you think I would have, after making it that far, but no, it was just too boring and incredibly BAD.)
Truly an excruciating experience. When I see it for sale on Amazon I am offended that they want me to buy this book; they should PAY me to take a copy of it off of their hands.
on November 5, 2003
When I started reading this book, I was so excited to have discovered Gurganus as a storyteller. He has done an admirable job of portraying a soldier's experiences in the Civil War, as well as capturing the unique characters of a community with humor and empathy. However, I soon found myself drowning in prose. Some of the stories drag and drag to the point of tedium. Eventually the author's world view began to distort things as well: his premise is that the only true romantic love to be found is based on adolescent same-sex relationships. The two main characters, Lucy and William Marsden, both pine for their lost first loves, Shirley and Ned. Their marriage seems one of convenience, without any real passion or complexity, which casts a depressing pall over the entire novel. Lucy has nine children, but only three are actually well-drawn: Louisa, Ned and Baby. The rest just help to populate her busy domestic life, like nameless faces. Considering the length of the book, there certainly was room for more character development. The dialects and poor grammar seem contrived at times (especially since Lucy was raised in a wealthy home), making the narration often difficult to read. Although this is an admirable attempt at capturing an era gone by, I think that the novel's flaws would turn me away from reading it again.
on April 10, 2001
I am fascinated by Southern hisotry, civil rights and the civil war --this book contained all of these ingredients --it's not really a novel with a linear plot; instead, it's a collection of recollections --just as if you were listening to someone tell you his or her life story which would meander back and forth from early to more recent events as one event triggered memory of another. Some of these stories, though fiction, gave me a truer sense of what certain events must have been like than any other real history I've read. As an example, the story of Castalia's forced journey from Africa to Charleston gave me what felt like the truest view of that passage that I have read; likewise, the story involving Sherman's assault on the Marsden plantation made me get a sense of what that must have felt like to those living on the plantations who were either freed or lost their possessions. The writing is very rich and requires careful attention; my only criticism is that some of the stories seemed to drag and could have been more tightly edited --that made the book, at times, tedious and is the reason for 4 rather than 5 stars.
on September 12, 2000
I wasn't really prepared for this to be a good book -- I was given an old copy by my Mom, who is from the South. 'Oh good, another war story' I thought. But once into the book, I was hooked. So many books lately seem shallow: they have one main theme and seem constructed mainly to make a good screenplay.
This book will never make a good screenplay, but it makes a rich, intriguing read. Although the story is complex, I had no trouble remembering what was going on or who the characters were: they were so detailed and memorable. It doesn't really matter what you think about the Civil War, either: the book is primarily about people, and about a certain time in history.
On a personal note, as a woman struggling with work and kids and house, Lucy's description of life at the turn of the century made me feel downright liberated, as well as proud of all the women throughout the centuries that have fed and clothed 'a mess of children' through good times and bad. Her description of getting up every morning to make a dozen sandwiches made me think of all the trivial little things Moms do to make life go on for a family, and how it all counts somehow in the end. It was amazing to me that Allan could describe the universe from a woman's point of view with such seeming accuracy and poignancy!
on April 3, 2000
The only reason that I couldn't give this story the fifth star is that after I got to the end and was completely exhausted of emotion, I did a terrible thing. I turned to the front of the book, looked on the page where copyright information was written and discovered that this amazing story was total, complete, unadulterated FICTION! I was completely mortified!
My favorite chapter in the entire book was entitled "Black, White and Lilac." I will not tell you why, so as to not spoil it for you, dear reader to be. This entire story was so very entertaining, that I can forgive the fact that it just isn't true...
I read the review of a certain "lkeener" and must strongly disagree with that individual's critique. In fact, if one were to visit the composite listing of "lkeener's" member page, one would likely find that there just isn't a whole lot that person finds too impressive! All that I can say, dear reader is that to each his own, but my vote gives the recommendation that "Confederate Widow" deserves a little reading light and attention.
on March 25, 2000
I was with my family at the South Carolina beach when I read this book. I was so moved by the chapter which describes Willie shooting the young Union soldier that I asked my brother-in-law to read that chapter(he's a history teacher and I thought it would be a beautiful passage to include in the teaching of the civil war). When I returned to the beach, he had read it and cried; my sister-in-law had read it and cried . . . Some of your reviewers suggest that the author is no storyteller . . . (whether I go to heaven or hell, my prayer is that those folks won't be there with me). As a daughter of the South and a girl who has been entertained by some of the best storytellers of the South, Gurganus is one of the finest storytellers! If you want a life-altering experience, read this novel. I've never written a review for amazon.com and probably will never write another one . . but, I feel so strongly about the inspiring beauty of this book, that I just wanted to share it . . .
on March 25, 2000
I was with my family at the South Carolina beach when I read this book. I was engrossed . . and so moved by the chapter which describes Willie shooting the young Union soldier. I asked my brother-in-law to read that one chapter(he's a history teacher and I thought it would be a beautiful passage to include in the teaching of the civil war). When I returned to the beach, he had read it and cried; my sister-in-law read it and cried . . . some of your reviewers suggest that he is not a good storyteller -- please ignor them --! As a daughter of the South and a girl who has been entertained by some of the best storytellers that the South has to offer, this man is one of the finest storytellers and this novel is a great example of that! If you want a life-altering experience, read this novel. I've never written a review for amazon.com and probably will never write another one . . but, I feel so strongly about the inspiring beauty of this book, that I just wanted to share it. . .