Saturday, June 29, 2013

Short and Sweet Review: Beyond the Wood by Michael J. Roueche

Beyond the Wood by Michael J. Roueche

I’m not normally a fan of the Civil War era, either in fiction or ‘non’. So, though I’d heard this was a good read, I only dug into it recently. Imagine my delight that is was such an engaging story!

A word of advice to readers--persist through the first, short introductory pages set in contemporary times; this is not your story. It’s coming, and you won’t return to the present for more than a few pages from this point on.

My hesitation with tales of this particular time often centers around the endless litany of battles and fields and body counts; it can be mind-numbing. The good news, however, is that this author gives us just enough information to aBeyond the Wood by Michael J. Rouecheppreciate the time and the circumstances, then wisely focuses on the people and their stories. I’ve no doubt that fans of the era will value such details more than I, but for the rest of us, these passages serve to progress the story rather than bog it down in educational seminars. In short, Mr. Roueche has done a fabulous job of giving us just enough.

At just over 500 pages it’s a lengthy book, but the pace moves well and the time you invest in the people within its pages pays off. There’s much for these people to endure and learn from, but learn they--mostly--do. The details of war support a great cast of characters with flaws and blessings enough to keep readers turning the pages.  Hank, the proud but heartsick protagonist, tries to lose himself on the battlefield. But in the aftermath, he makes a promise to a dying soldier that will compel him back down a road he thought he’d left behind.

Betsy is the girl who broke his heart. She, along with finely drawn secondary characters both on the battlefield and in the drawing rooms of the South, put flesh and sinew on the bones of this well told story. Mr. Roueche has an ear for the voices of the period, from slaves and soldiers to speculators and southern belles, and his prose is a pleasure to read and re-read...if you’re inclined to that sort of thing. A series of letters, interspersed throughout, progress the plot, fill in the details of the war and serve to advance a growing relationship between Hank and a widow he seeks to someday console.    

The contemporary beginning had left me with a sense of foreboding that followed me throughout the book. I was never quite certain where we were headed, the characters and I. When the final page was turned I’d grown very fond of the story and its people, regretting I would not see their tomorrows any more, but very happy I’d known them for a while. And isn’t that the sign of a great tale told!