Saturday, February 17, 2007

The March, E.L. Doctorow

The March is literally THE march - Sherman's March during the Civil War. The novel is split into three sections: Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. We follow many characters on both sides of the war, including a free slave girl who joins the march, two escaped Confederate prisoners, General Sherman, a Southern belle, and a surgeon on the march.

I've only read one other Doctorow novel, Ragtime, which I loved. This one, I'm not so sure about. I found myself comparing The March to two other books set in the heat of battle: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, set in Vietnam, and Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, which takes place during Westward expansion.

I don't like war novels. I knew that going in to each of these books. Blood Meridian was for school, The Things They Carried was recommended numerous times. The March, I found on my own.

I bring these other two novels up because I loved them. Despite my dislike of the genre, these books got through to me. This was probably because the books are not "war novels." Like any good book, these two novels defy labels.

The March is a different story. While I was able to immerse myself in the different characters, I was constantly ripped out of the moment by an account of battle. I understand this is a matter of taste, and I'm glad I got past it.

The best moment in this book is a scene with a character named Albion Simms. He is an unremarkable character until a spike winds up in his head. This doesn't happen until the North Carolina section of the novel, and it's one of the things that kept me reading. The surgeon decides to leave the spike in his head, deciding removal would kill him. The character remembers and forgets indescriminately and unpredictably. It is one of the most interesting parts of the novel. His death made me gasp out loud.

I'm glad I didn't put the book down. I'm glad I made it through. Doctorow embodies different mindsets about the conflict and about war in general, that make it an interesting read.

Next up: Ines of My Soul, by Isabel Allende

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