"Bull Run" reminded me of reading "Spoon River Anthology," where each character works individually but collectively toward a central theme through monologues. In this novel, representatives from both South and North have unique reasons for witnessing the fighting and tell about the effect of the Civil War on their lives as politicians, army men, citizens and family members. Ultimately all of the monologues end with the Battle of Bull Run.
The events of the war set the pace leading from preparation and rumors, a preamble-of-sorts, accelerating to the battle and then winding down, the conclusions drenched in blood and tears. What marks the events are the people involved: Flora Wheelwright watching her daughters' husbands leave for combat, never realizing that later she'd know the horror of having the wounded in her own sitting room; Edmund Upwing, a coach driver, hired to take two congressmen and their wives on a picnic to view the battle through field glasses. When the battle turns against them, they flee. "Women screamed. A Rebel shell had fallen on the road . . . the way was blocked by a tangle of overturned wagons . . . a young officer galloped up . . . his courage was acclaimed . . . My sharp ear learned that the man's name was Ouster."Other characters are Nathaniel Epp, whose only alliance is to the dollars that can be made from photographs of men in uniform to send home, and Lily Malloy, whose brother defies their father's demands to not join the army, sends back a letter "replenishing me, as if it were food" and finally the report of his death.
"Bull Run," a seemingly simple collection of "primary" entries, is indeed a complex story of entanglement of war, the destruction of battle and ultimately the inter-relationship of mankind. None of the characters is left unscathed or without scars, the extent of which the author has allowed the reader to assume. Certainly, this is a testimony of what war does.
Fleischman has suggested in final author notes that the pieces - all fiction except for General McDowell - could be used as a reader's theater, a note that is supported by my initial reading.
The author's recent works reflect his interest in American history, such as "The Borning Room," "Townsend's Warbler," "Saturnalia," "Coming-and-Going Men," and "Path of the Pale Horse." He has two volumes of poetry for two-voices, "I Am Phoenix" and "Joyful Noise," the latter of which won the 1989 Newbery Medal.
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