Back on to writing, my Write 1, Submit 1 for last week is a failure. I was focused on preparing for my Amazon interview, so I didn’t do a ton of writing. I do have a short story idea and I’ll be tapping out tonight or tomorrow, though. I also need to write my synopsis for The Mageborn Mechanic and send that out.
I was reading Bob Mayer’s “Duty, Honor, Country” but gave up. That gave me no satisfaction. The book is set just before the Civil war and has U.S. Grant as a main character. This book should have been right up my wheelhouse but it didn’t work for me.
Part of the problem for me was the two fictional characters Bob Mayer inserted into the historical narrative. (there was a third character but he didn’t bug me as much) I didn’t find the two characters sympathetic, which is death for me. I realize the author is trying to create a character arc and a redemption arc or two but it took too long for me. I wasn’t hooked. I also disliked the way the two invented characters ‘stole the thunder’ of real people and real events. Making one of them ‘best buddies’ with Kit Carson was a bridge too far for me.
The author seemed to have definite opinions about the character of historical figures like Fremont and Robert E. Lee. I get that there is a tendency to over-romanticize Lee, especially; but it felt like Lee was written to be a dick. Lee may have been ‘merely human’ but even his worst enemies might have a hard time recognizing him here. The fictional characters also have a sub-plot that wouldn’t have been out of place in Mandingo (Sexual slavery! Incest! Fun for the whole family!), which didn’t help. On the other side, Grant is made a little too saintly, particularly on slavery. From what I recall from his autobiography, he didn't have strong opinions on slavery until the War. The real people are complex enough to make for compelling stories; I don’t see why they needed to be reinterpreted like this.
What did work well for me was the setting at West Point, those scenes felt alive. If the whole novel had been set there, I’d have devoured it, melodrama or not. Spending four years with figures destined to cast a long shadow over the coming war while they were still students would have made for fascinating historical fiction. Likewise, a novel that focused on the Mexican-American war back in the 1840’s would have been another part of history that has been under-told. Or simply focusing on the historical character’s real, compelling stories could have been made fresh and interesting. But that’s not what we have here.
I ended up buying, again, Shelby Foote’s Civil War narrative instead. This time for my Kindle Fire. I also picked up U.S. Grant’s autobiography, along with Sherman’s and Longstreet’s. Again, the real stories are dramatic enough and the people themselves abounded with flaws and contradictions. There’s no reasons to make up new ones. Especially not with the fictional characters created here. I really, really wanted to like this book and it gives me no pleasure to write a negative review of it.
* though he did, indeed, free a slave that had been given to him as a wedding present. I don't recall him freeing his wife's slaves, however.