By: Mary Ickes
Going Home & Love Among Enemies
By: Lorraine Tate
This month, Reading Friends, a review of Going Home, the first book of Ms. Tate’s Civil War trilogy, continued next month with Love Among Enemies. The Civil War history heading each chapter and a feuding father and daughter in Rome, Georgia, 2005, seemed incongruous, but Ms. Tate weaves fiction and history into a fascinating narrative.
Going Home opens with Quentin Lazzario yelling at his daughter Leisha (age 17) to get ready for school. A renowned sculptor, infamous for his violent temper and controlling nature, his wife Sylvia granted creative freedom as she managed their home and raised Leisha. Sylvia’s death burdens Quentin with a daughter wishing him dead, rather than her beloved mother.
Quentin continues shirking familial responsibilities at his foundry or his home studio, occasionally wondering where Leisha goes and what she does. Determined to finally assert parental authority, Quentin bursts into Leisha’s room and finds her unconscious, an empty vodka bottle on the floor. Bewildered, Quentin safeguards his daughter all night. He’s summoned to Leisha’s school, a few weeks later, when a teacher finds her passed out under the bleachers. To his credit, Quentin fights, literally, for Leisha to enter a detox center. To his amazement, Quentin discovers that he is partially to blame for their enmity: As Leisha’s counselor declares, “You strike me as a difficult man . . . and the most self-centered man I’ve run into in a long time.”
For disparate reasons, Quentin and Leisha share a tenuous bond: Going Home, his enormous bronze statute commissioned for Winston County, Alabama. His largest project to date, Quentin obsesses about artistic and financial successes; Leisha expects him to publicly acknowledge Sylvia’s research and artistic contributions. Defying Quentin’s dictate to never interfere with his creative muse, Sylvia urged him to consider Winston County’s divided loyalties between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Further, she dared to suggest the motif of brothers, one Confederate and one Union, returning to their family in Winston County. Quentin’s tearful recognition of Sylvia’s diligence at Going Home’s unveiling ceremony awakens Leisha’s love and respect for her father.
Quentin negates their progress by removing Sylvia’s portrait, a painful reminder, from the entrance hall. Outraged, Leisha searches the house, ending in her mother’s study, off limits since her death. Leisha recalls happy hours in the little room as she and her mother studied writing, shared journal entries, and discussed outrageous ideas. Leisha senses peace as she folds a shawl, removes wilted plants, admires Sylvia’s daisy watercolor, and revels in her mother’s ambience.
Astonished at the extent of her mother’s Civil War research, Leisha decides to resume Sylvia’s work. Quentin’s objection that she is too fragile to encounter Civil War horrors provides Leisha an opportunity to finally assert herself: “I resent you stepping in now and trying to be the disciplinarian, laying down rules, suddenly pushing your authority. . . . Mother was all about freedom, learning from trials, from experiences.” Quentin begrudgingly consents.
From an unexpected source, Leisha gleans Civil War insights that weave the chapter headings, her mother’s research, and her own findings into a chronicle of women’s Civil War contributions. Letters of Faith Elizabeth Davis of Winston County to her brother Athel and to Union Captain Jonathan Blackwell validate her discoveries. Leisha studies the letters with a young girl’s curiosity and a seasoned researcher’s persistence.
Faith’s family is the prototype for Going Home. In1856, they moved from Rome, Georgia, to a farm outside Houston in Winston County, Alabama. By 1861, the family has nine children, four older and four younger than Faith. She writes, At heart I am a dreamer, a writer, a lover of nature. Her work finished, Faith steals away to the barn loft to read and study, journal and daydream.
The Civil War and her familial counterpart begin when Athel, her favorite brother (age 16), runs away to join the Confederate Army. A year later, Faith’s father and brothers, Andrew and Doety, join the Union forces, leaving her solely responsible for her invalid mother and siblings Charity, 11; Jackson, 8; Hope, 6; and Owen, an infant.
The letters describe, in painful detail, life on the Union, Confederate, and home fronts. Unlike soldiers, Faith, other than neighborly concern, stands alone. Starvation their most imminent danger, Faith, Jackson, and Hope garden and hunt small game. As military conditions worsen, Confederate and Union soldiers raid farms for food and souvenirs to sell or to send home, including Faith’s books and her father’s harpsichord. The Home Guard is even more dangerous. Formed to protect state borders and families, many were bullies too cowardly to join the army. Instead, they forced men remaining at home, no matter their age or health, to choose military service or hanging; they pillaged and raped, none of which Faith’s family is spared. Faith’s letters reveal that she is no less a soldier in battle than Athel or Jonathan.
Faith receives Athel’s first letter a month after he joins Company D. He admits that he slipped away at night, because he believes so strongly in Confederate sovereignty that he may have killed his father if confronted. Athel’s letters personify the South’s descent from assured victory to tragic defeat. After the Battle of Bull Run: Our spirits are high. We are confident the warring will be short. Southerners are natural horsemen and fighters. We’ll have the Yanks on the run if they come our way. . . . After the Battle of Shiloh: I cannot relay in words the sight of the battlefield so strewn with dead and near dead. . . I saw with my own eyes a pond turned red by blood. . . . Athel’s bravado decreases until finally: This war has gone on too long. . . I’m sick and tired of blood. I may never slaughter a hog or kill a chicken again. No matter how great his misery or how dreadful the news from home, Athel always respects and lauds Faith’s home front tactics as though she was a comrade at his side.
Faith’s correspondence with Captain Jonathan Blackwell begins four months after the Battle of Shiloh when he writes that her father was killed and her brother Andrew wounded protecting the captured lands. Jonathan derives no glory from a battlefield of dead and wounded soldiers, no matter what their loyalties, but he believes the Union must stand. A compassionate man, he visits his wounded men every day, writes their letters, and carefully marks graves for families to visit after the war.
Faith answers his first letter: My Paw was consumed with your cause, and I am quite sure that he gave the fight all his vigor, though I believe he was despicable wrong. . . . After asking about Doety and denouncing the Union, she closes: I know you think it bold of me to speak my mind . . . but I am not one to remain quiet. Thank God. Blackwell responds with an unprecedented kindness that astounds Faith, but then notes that he is . . . surprised to find a Southerner so well written. In response to her terse reply, Blackwell asks if they may continue corresponding as friends. After the war, they agree to meet in Winston County: the scene of the story of Love Among Enemies.
Her Civil War research and Faith’s letters transform Leisha from a desperate girl to a young woman focused on a master’s degree in history and career as a writer, beginning with Faith’s story as a tribute to women’s accomplishments. She believes that Sylvia led her to the letters, “Because she wanted me to draw on the power and strength I’ve discovered in the women before me . . . five generations of strong, resiliant, determined women. . . .”
Quentin replied that Leisha should make that seven generations, and that “. . . she might be the one that puts them all to shame.”
Generations seems to indicate that Leisha and Quentin refer to more than women bonding across the generations. If my assumption is correct, Ms. Tate needs two more volumes to develop the details. If not, here comes another delicious plot twist.
To be continued next month with Love Among Enemies.