Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Pub. Date: September 9, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Little, Brown!!)
Summary: She calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended For: no one.
When I first heard about Neverhome I knew I needed it in my life and the months-long wait was going to be absolute torture. In my mind A) it was a Civil War novel so there was no way it was going to be anything less than stellar and B) I dubbed it the next I Shall Be Near to You. Oh how wrong I was on BOTH counts. Neverhome angered me and I took its sub-par writing/storytelling personally. I spent months waiting for this book. I had such high expectations; how could it do this to me?
A year after the War starts, Constance leaves her farm to fight. She wants to see some action and since her husband is the gentler, softer of the two, the decision is made for Constance to be the one to don the Union blues and give her all for her country. As Ash, she becomes something of a legend: Gallant Ash, she’s dubbed, and her sharpshooter skills are renowned. Through it all, however, Ash longs for the day when she can return home to her loving Bartholomew.
Neverhome was essentially told in four parts: Constance becoming Ash and leaving home to enlist; Ash’s life at camp; a wound that left Ash behind and the consequences of spurned advances; Ash walking home. That’s it. That’s all the story is. My e-copy was a mere 197 pages and less than halfway through I began skimming – not a good sign. With a story that short, you’re going to need something of substance and, unfortunately, Neverhome missed the mark.
I mistakenly assumed that a novel about a woman disguising herself as a man to go off and fight would include, you know, fighting. The majority of Ash’s time spent in uniform is at camp where she waits until night to bathe and sleeps in cramped tents with multiple soldiers. The bulk of the story (which, again, at 200 pages really isn’t saying much) deals with her capture and a wound she receives. Along with two younger boys, Ash finds herself in Rebel territory. The three are quickly rounded up and locked up in an abandoned cabin. Inside Ash discovers a closet with an old dress inside. She puts on the dress, jumps out a window, and takes the men by surprise, killing them and saving her two fellow soldiers.
Later on, when she receives a wound, she leaves her camp and finds her way to the house of a nurse. I didn’t understand this part at all. Neva knows Ash is a woman and gives her a fresh dress to wear as she’s recuperating. The pair soon get to talking about their lives before the war and their husbands (I believe Neva’s has died), and over time it appears Neva starts to develop feelings for Ash. She kisses her multiple times and ultimately asks Ash to stay with her, they can farm the land together. When Ash rejects, she finds herself thrown in jail (?!) and accused of being a spy. Not long after she’s taken from the jail and sent to a mental institution. Neverhome is all over the place with its storytelling and I was struggling to see the logic and reason is SO many of these scenes.
Finally Ash manages to leave the institution and walks home to her farm. …that’s it. That’s it. I’m clearly in the minority – perhaps I missed something?? – since every review so far has been nothing but the highest of praise. Sorry, Neverhome, you couldn’t cut it for me. I’ve read better and will read better. The only redeeming factor was its length. I wish I could say otherwise, that I absolutely loved this book, but in the end Neverhome was a huge disappointment.
I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.