Sunday, June 2, 2013

Foote Explores a Very Different Civil War

Love in a Dry Season

by Shelby Foote

Published by Vintage

4 Out of 5 Stars

I read this book under duress: it was the monthly selection for my local book club and I did not look forward to the experience. The back of the novel compares Shelby Foote to William Faulkner, which immediately inspired within me the following thought: "Oh, crap." For I hates me some Faulkner. However, I've come to realize that, more often than not, a novel being described as "Faulknerian" is really just shorthand for the following: Southern; quirky, dark characters with unhealthy libertine appetites; and a tragic ending--and these are all things with which I'm okay. It doesn't always mean a rampant disregard for punctuation or that a boy falls in love with a cow. Foote's novel has a somewhat stock plot in Southern literature: Yankee comes to the South, tries to make inroads to the gentility and old money, and is destroyed in the process. However, it's the dysfunctional and well drawn characters that make the novel such an enjoyable read.

Set in the 1920's, the novel has as its setting a South that is still torn between the traditions of the past and the modernization of the future. This is represented by the two women of the novel: Amy Barcroft, symbolic of the new money of industry and the loosening of Bible Belt morals, and Amanda Barcroft, symbolic of the straight-laced world of old money and respectability. Both women are disconnected from the "Old Miss" of Southern myth and lack a defined role in society. Harley Drew, a Northern banker who longs to live the life of high society, becomes involved with both women. Throw in Jeff, a blind voyeur ("For what could be more pitiful than a voyeur in the dark?") and Amy's violently jealous husband, and it's just a matter of time before the crap hits the fan with particularly cringe-worthy and entertaining results.

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