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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!
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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.
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on July 13, 2004
I bought this book in Bangkok and read it because it was in English. Otherwise I would have chucked it aside. Ditto to what other reviewers have said about the bogged-down prose style, plus several other serious flaws, including but not limited to:
characters that are developed at ponderous length and suddenly disappear, never to be heard from again; the incomprehensible pattern of events which the narrator chooses (giving us every random detail for about a 12-year period and then skipping over a whole lot of stuff that would have been nice to know); stomach-churning prissiness that attempts to pass as womanspeak ("I then scolded my prettiest girl for lisping so"), and a burning-of-the-plantation scene that is laughably stupid as well as flat-out physiologically impossible. Not for the literate.
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on December 7, 1999
This is one of the worst books I have ever tried to plow through. I wish that Amazon would let me give it no stars because thats all it deserves. I managed to get to page 445 until I went crazy and almost shredded up the book until I remembered it was a library book. I've read plenty of long, rambling books but this one was just the worst. Did he have to tell the life story of every single character in the novel? What was worse is that he went on for pages about nothing. He would take 100 pages to describe a scene that would only have lasted 3 minutes! Also, this was really one of the most unhistoric novels I've ever read. Did people in the early 1900s say stuff like "more power to you?" and that was just one of the small things he got wrong. I also could not see some old woman telling some young guy every single event in her life, talk about a good memory! And some of the things she told him, like her lesbian experiences with that one girl, well I just can't imagine some old woman telling a young guy stuff like that! But what bugged me most about the novel was I found the majority of what I managed to read to be sillly and pointless. It is just not worth reading and none of the characters ever ring true. This is the novel that I judge all other bad novels by but none other yet has reached the evil dephs of this one. I love to read but this book almost got me to quit reading.
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on June 7, 1997
With wonderful imagery, this novel follows Willie Madsen as he marches off to war, hand in hand with his best friend Ned, two thirteen year old boys with not a clue that war is much different from a Sunday school picnic. The story is told in the rambling voice of 99 year old Lucy Madsen, Cap. Willie Madsen's widow, a victim and veteran of this war in her own way. Although Lucy wasn't born until well after the end of the civil war, her war wounds are just as deep and her struggle is the struggle shared by all women who fight to maintain their identity in our patriarchal society
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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.
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on April 11, 2001
Like the boy in The Emperor's New Clothes, I wonder if I'm the only person who DID NOT like this book?
It was recommended to me by a dear friend whose book taste usually parallels my own. The reviews were grand, people loved it. And being a southerner, I thought I would just naturally enjoy it. NOT.
Lucy Marsden is pitiful, her aged loony-tune husband is pitiful, and the other characters are no better. The stabs at comedy in this book were lost on me; I found the whole thing grim and depressing. And it's LONG and grim. Talk about diarrhea of the word processor.
I am an avid reader and I enjoy ALL kinds of books, but I could never, ever recommend this book to anyone.
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on July 15, 1997
The book is a rambling epic that may take months to read and--even if you love the American South--is sometimes too much in love with itself. But Wait--for the first time in my life, I found the cassette tape version BETTER THAN THE BOOK. It distills the very best parts of the book out and gives a perky, quaint, lovable life to 99-year-old Lucy Marsden. Gurganus is a genius, but he needs an editor who can say 'no': The book could lose about 200 pages easily
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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.
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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.
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