War Calls, Love Cries: A Civil War Novel
by Mark Barie
book review by Kat Kennedy
"Isaac was stirred into righteous anger and could feel the goosebumps on his skin. Lincoln spoke to his heart."
Seventeen-year-old Isaac Wells dreams of attending law school after graduating from a small school in Keeseville in upstate New York. His older brother, John, a notorious alcoholic, is to take over the family farm while Isaac follows his dream. However, fate fails Isaac. His father falls ill, John is less than dependable, and the stirrings of war pull at his conscious. The only bright light in Isaac’s young life is Rebecca Lobdell, daughter of the innkeeper where he has placed his ailing father. When John’s devious behavior compromises Isaac’s plans, he decides to put law school on hold, marries Rebecca, and tries to save the family farm. But again, Isaac’s plans go awry. Depressed and discouraged over his unhappy marriage, Isaac seeks solace in the arms of a prostitute. Eventually, he becomes convinced he must join the Union Army, thinking that the only thing he is leaving behind is the farm, an unhappy marriage, and his deceitful brother.
Barie’s Civil War novel is filled with the trauma that occurs when one’s dreams meet reality. The protagonist, Isaac, is naïve and idealistic. When life doesn’t turn out the way he has planned, he becomes despondent and chases another ideal: to fight for the nation in a just war. He remembers hearing Lincoln speak the summer before he was to attend law school, and idealism spurred by dissatisfaction pushes him to join the fight. When the realities of war set in, he realizes that there is no glory in killing another human being, even in a just cause. He is taken as a prisoner of war, and deplorable conditions coupled with hunger and time to dwell on his fate lead him to question everything about his life.
Barie’s love for and grasp of Civil War history is evident in the novel’s exploration of the plight of soldiers during the war. Heartbreaking scenes of wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefield bring the full horror of Civil War warfare to light. Handled with honesty and compassion, these devastating and haunting descriptions of war’s carnage seen through Isaac’s eyes forge an emotional connection with the reader rarely found in a debut novel.
Well-schooled in history, the author has four historical works to his credit. Two are collaborations with his wife, Christine Racine: Crossing the Line: A History of the Border at Rouses Point and Champlain and The Boat People of Champlain, the story of the now extinct boat-building industry of Champlain. Two biographies, The President of Plattsburgh: The Story of Smith Weed (a 19th-Century lawyer and politician) and A Miracle Comes to Vermont about the life of a Catholic priest, complete his non-fiction offerings. This impressive background in historical writing serves him well in this first foray into fiction.
Not only does the author write with authenticity concerning the historical aspects of his subject, but he is also a spellbinding storyteller who grabs the reader’s attention from the novel’s beginning and continues to engage throughout the twists and turns of an engaging plot. Whether delving into the psychological repercussions of Isaac’s time as a soldier or Rebecca’s struggles to handle the trials she faces at home, the author ensures that his readers will find characters that are well-rounded and captured with all the complexities of the human psyche. For those seeking a great story set in an accurately depicted historical frame, this novel doesn’t disappoint.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
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