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Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon begins in 1869, four years after the Confederate surrender and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in Jarrettsville, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon line.  Tensions continue to run high in this town with former Confederate and Union soldiers continue to hold their prejudices and wear them on their faces and express them in their venomous words.

With tensions running high, the only possible outcome for a young love between Martha Jane Cairnes, the daughter of a Southern and loyal Confederate family, and Nick McComas, a former Union soldier and advocate of Black rights, is heartache and murder.

Nixon rips pages from events in her family history to create a novel that breaths life into the tensions following the U.S. Civil War.  Despite the reunification of our nation, both sides are unwilling to let go and reconcile.

“‘We’ve got to get the Black Code back, by God.  Negroes roaming around free, reeling drunk, menacing descent women? We can’t have that here!’

‘And the women are worse than the fellows.  They’re degenerates, full of disease, corrupting our youth.  Even the little girls, I swear.’

‘That’s right, Negro girls can’t help themselves.  They’re overheated by nature, worse than the fellows, I swear.'”  (page 106 of ARC)

Martha is a strong-willed woman who sets her sights on what she wants and goes after it, while Nick is more deliberate and cautious in his approach to decisions.  However, when love takes them over, passions get out of control, leading them into compromising situations.  Then the rumors begin among the former Confederates about Nick and Martha, equally untrue and equally damaging to their reputations.  Unfortunately, these rumors are what slices and dices their relationship, particularly since it is so new and untested and both sides are tragically unable to confide in one another with the depth that friends would do.

The novel is broken into four parts, plus an epilogue, and those readers looking for integrated points of view throughout the story will find Nixon took a different approach, instead breaking up the narrative into parts dominated by one point of view or by several witness’ points of views in the final section.  The format is a bit disconcerting when the first sections end in the same place, but are told from different points of view.  However, although the events are similar, there are moments where more is revealed by one point of view than another, which helps explain more of the characters’ motivations.  Although not an ideal format for this historical fiction novel, it is easy to understand Nixon’s decision for choosing it.

Overall, Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon provides an inside look at the tensions that still plagued the south following the resolution of the civil war and how it tore apart families, friends, and neighbors.  Additionally, it depicts the struggles that the families in the south faced in light of scarce resources and finances.  Nixon is a talented writer who can deftly translate a portion of her ancestral history into a compelling tale of fiction.

About the Author:

Cornelia Nixon is the author of two novels, Now You See It and Angels Go Naked, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence. She won first prize in the 1995 O. Henry Awards. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at Mills College, near San Francisco.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip in Jarrettsville, Md., following the U.S. Civil War and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

This is my 1st book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

This is my 6th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Confession time, I’ve wanted to read this book since I picked up an ARC at the 2009 Book Expo America.  This is my 4th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

  • Sounds like you enjoyed it despite the narrative structure. Thanks for letting me borrow your copy. I need to get going on the Civil War challenge.
    Anna´s last blog post ..Guest Post- Michelle Moran- Author of Madame Tussaud

    • I thought you would be the first one to start reading Civil War books. I’m always behind in our war challenges and rushing to finish a bunch by the end of the year. Good thing I got a head start!

  • I’ve read other books when the same story is told from different points of view and have found that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It sounds like this one is kind of borderline. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

    • I think by the end the narrative structure didn’t bother me as much. I wanted resolution.