PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Kevin Powers descends into the corrupt heart of the American South with his Civil War-era novel, A Shout in the Ruins, a lacerating and elegiac—if at times uneven—novel about the lasting effects of human bondage.
Powers, whose debut novel, The Yellow Birds, is among the best works of fiction to come out of America’s 21st-century wars, has penned a tragic tale of moral corruption set in Virginia. While chapters alternate between the final days of the antebellum South and the 1950s, at its heart the book is the story of the Beauvais Plantation, where Emily Reid, impoverished daughter of a crippled Confederate soldier, marries plantation owner Antony Levallois.
From the author of The Yellow Birds comes an elegiac tale of the American South.
Already at the plantation are slaves Nurse and Rawls, star-crossed lovers who are little more than toys for Levallois. The most interesting character in the book, Levallois is more animal than human in his needs and methods, yet his manipulation is sophisticated enough to hold the entire countryside under his thumb. But as the South falls to pieces, so does his control of the people around him, leading to revenge and murder.
Another storyline follows nonagenarian George Seldom as he tries to investigate his murky origins. Aided by a diner waitress, he makes his way to a dimly recalled childhood home, where he comes face to face with memory and grief.
While the story grows confusing at times, the only discordant notes are a couple of narratives that focus on fringe characters who appear to exist only to move the story along. Still, the author’s writing possesses the same intimate, lyrical power as his haunting debut, which was written after his experience serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. This time, the Richmond, Virginia, native gets closer to home.
This is a fine, relevant novel from a notable author.