by Frazier, Charles

After marrying a Mississippi landowner in hopes of living a life of security, Varina Howell finds her expectations upended when her husband is appointed as the leader of the Confederacy.

What legacy befalls those who find themselves on history's wrong side? Frazier's (Nightwoods, 2011) fourth Southern historical novel centers on Varina Howell Davis, the unlikely first lady of the doomed Confederacy. Its nonlinear structure roams across her tragic life's vast landscape, from girlhood as an impoverished Mississippi planter's well-educated daughter to strained marriage to the much-older Jefferson Davis to old age in a Saratoga Springs rest home. There, regular visits from James Blake, an African American man she'd taken in as a child, prompt her recollections. Frazier crafts haunting scenes of her and her children's flight from Richmond via wagon through the devastated South and her morphine-hazed, funereal view of her husband's rain-soaked inauguration. Intelligent, outspoken, and clear-sighted but yoked to an intransigent man, the real Varina (who is called "V" throughout) sometimes feels elusive. One wonders what she could have become under different circumstances. In her conversations with James, she proclaims "the right side won" yet seems unable to fully grasp slavery's ramifications. This powerful realization of its time also has significant meaning for ours. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Starting with the international best-seller Cold Mountain (1997), Frazier's novels, and his newest will be energetically publicized, draw a large readership. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

A new novel of the Civil War and its aftermath from the author of Cold Mountain (1997, etc.).This novel begins in 1906 in upstate New York, where an elderly woman is staying at an establishment that is part hotel, part hospital. A visitor arrives, and his request for information about his own past takes readers back in time to another world. The visitor is a freed slave named James Blake. The woman is Varina Davis—who, as Jefferson Davis' wife, was once the first lady of the Confederate States of America. As she moves back and forth in her own life story, V recalls scenes from her childhood in Natchez, Mississippi, and her marriage to a widower more than twice her age. After leaving home, she's never settled for long. Her husband's election to the Senate means a move to Washington, D.C., and his ascendancy to the leadership of the Confederacy takes her to Richmond. After the war, she takes cheap rooms in London. Varina is certainly a fascinating figure. She is well-educ ated, her own political sympathies do not align perfectly with those of her husband, and, after being impoverished by the war, she launches a career as a journalist in New York—writing being one of the only ways for a woman of her station to earn money. Readers who helped to make Frazier's first novel a huge bestseller may cheer his return to the War Between the States. Whether or not his fourth book will earn the author new fans depends largely on whether or not there's a fresh audience for his heavily lyrical—sometimes turgid—style. While there are moments of dry humor—Mrs. Davis is nobody's fool—this reads more like a novel its heroine might have read in the late days of the 19th century than something written in the 21st. The most contemporary touch is the disjointed timeline, but even that isn't entirely effective. The resulting text isn't so much a coherent narrative as a series of vignettes. Intriguing subject. Uneven execution. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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