Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scarecrow in Gray

A Civil War Novel
by Barry D. Yelton
(iUniverse / 0-595-40185-6 / September 2006 / 218 pages / $15.95)

This is the second historical fiction novel about the Civil War reviewed on this blog. Convergence of Valor, a book about the development and launch of the first submarine, happened to be the very first book reviewed here. Like that book, Scarecrow in Gray concerns a particular issue of the war, as told from the Confederate perspective, and both books successfully attempt to be as accurate as possible with respect to the parts of the plot that are known entities. Both authors developed a finished storyline around certain incomplete, but historically accurate facts. No one actually knows what happened to the submarine, the H. L. Hunley, and no one knows precisely what experiences Barry Yelton's great-grandfather actually had after he entered the war in 1864. Scarecrow in Gray is Francis Yelton's compassionate, gut-wrenching, up-close-and-personal viewpoint on the war. He begins by telling the reader how the starved, emaciated Rebel soldiers looked like scarecrows the first time he sees them.

I have compared Barry Yelton's work to that of the legendary Bruce Catton in my other reviews, and I stand by that statement. Barry presents the story of Francis in much the same way that Catton told the story from the Union side in This Hallowed Ground. Barry Yelton fills his story with emotion and the realism of the moment, which happened to be the darkest in America's history. I would liked to have lived during the Civil War about as much as I would enjoy life as a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Barry D. Yelton makes it crystal clear why that statement is so true. From the departure from his wife and two small daughters to the agonizing loss of soldiers close to him, Francis adequately describes the hell of existence in North Carolina and Virginia in that brief, depressing era. The author describes the whizzing musket balls, screams of agony, and blood everywhere it does not belong. He takes you to the center of the action, but he also lets you sit around the campfire with the soldiers as they discuss the quieter, more disturbing issues of The War Between the States. Scarecrow in Gray is not long or highly detailed, but the emotions and morality the book imparts are very compelling.

The comma omissions and other minor infractions kept the Proofreading Police busy writing tickets, but that is the only issue that keeps Scarecrow in Gray out of the solid five-star category. I was not overly impressed with some of the bland compositional style, either, but I make that statement very carefully. Much of what I call bland may be just the author's attempt to accurately replicate the attitude of a very depressed soldier and narrator. As with most of my reviews, I also allow extra credit for longer books with more detail than this one offers. For instance, there was one particular passage that bugged me in the audacity of its brevity. The author says that Francis carved a rather detailed inscription into a makeshift wooden headstone as if he completed a long, arduous task in ten minutes! I have no other complaints at all. This is a very professionally presented first effort. The cover is well designed and suited to the storyline. The plot is easy to follow, the characters are accurately developed, and the author's vision of his subject matter imparts the result of thorough research. If Scarecrow in Gray did not affectionately remind me of This Hallowed Ground, I would not have said it did. It does.

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