Friday, April 13, 2012

Beyond the Wood

 his book Beyond the Wood,

            Set both during the American Civil War and “not long ago,” Beyond the Wood is the story of Union soldier Hand Gragg and his several times great grandson, Reid.  For generations the men of the Gragg family have made a pilgrimage to Gainesville, Virginia with an old Confederate button in tow.  Reid’s father insisted that Reid make the journey, but it was only after his father’s death that he did so.  Upon his arrival to the old farmhouse beyond the wood he meets a peculiar woman who seems to know all about the Gragg’s story.  Reid sits with the woman and is entranced by the tale she tells.

            Hank Gragg left his home in Virginia to wander and eventually join the Union army after his humiliating rejection by Betsy, the woman he hoped to marry.  During Hank’s lengthy disappearance, his family thinks him dead, Betsy marries a Confederate officer and Hank sees the true horror of war.  During his first battle he risks life and limb to crawl to Confederate lines to retrieve a souvenir of his first battle.  Instead of the generic object he set out for, he finds himself at the side of a dying Confederate soldier who asks only that Hank deliver his last letter to his wife, Ellie.  Hank, of course feels compelled to do so and as he is pulling the letter out of the Confederate’s coat, he accidentally rips a button off as well. In Hank’s journey to get the letter to the widow Ellie, he finds himself falling in love with the idea of her as he is almost killed by bandits, rescues a captive troop of Union soldiers, but he does not get to deliver the letter personally, but instead gives it to the widow’s servant.

            Betsy is shocked when she receives a letter from both her dead husband, and the Union soldier who unbelievably got the letter to her.  She is even more shocked to read that the Union soldier is Hank, the man she hastily rejected but never stopped loving.  The letter is addressed to “Ellie” her late husband’s pet name for her, so Hank does not realize who she is.  They begin corresponding secretly, Hank never realizing the widow is Betsy, and Betsy waging an inward war between her growing love for Hank and her desire for a comfortable life offered by one Mr. Walthrope. Finally the war is over, Hank is determined to meet this widow Ellie, whose letters helped him survive the deaths of brothers and friends, and Mr. Walthrope is uncovered as a dangerous murderer, all in the final climax of the long-age (somewhat predictable) story.

In the end, Reid understands his father’s great desire for his son to make the sacred journey to Virginia, but when he tries to thank the strange woman, she is mysteriously gone.

There were a lot of secondary characters in Hank’s story that seemed charming, but I did not really feel that I got to know them well enough.  Much of the dialogue was very verbose and maybe a little overly dramatic.  Overall, a decent read for someone who enjoys the era of the American Civil War, as there was some pretty good imagery, and the reader also picks up on some of the mixed feelings people really must have had about the war.

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