I feel like maybe this is a fairly lost Connie Willis novel, where her career has been so defined by the infinite numbers of Hugo and Nebula Awards she has won, and of course the sheer heft and size of her large and longer novels. But I liked this one. It’s better than the other early short novels she wrote in the mid 1980s by a wide margin I feel. It also just happens to coincide with my growing up and current life in some funny ways.
If you grow up in Virginia, especially in my era (born in the early 1980s) and outside of Northern Virginia, you are subsumed by the Civil War in history, in the very geography of the state, and cultural imaginings.Tear down all the monuments for Confederate figures for all I care; that’s not what I am talking about. Because this state is the very site of the Civil War–minus significant singular battlefields in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina–and the home of the capital of the confederacy, even without the statues that pepper the landscape, this state would be completely swamped in the Civil War as a concept. Driving from Washington DC to Richmond on 95 you pass by the Wilderness, Fredericksburg, Seven Days, Richmond etc and you’re close to Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Sharpsburg, Bull Runs I and II, Chancellorsville, and plenty of other places.
So this book, occupying a weird space of Civil War buff(ery) and the ways in which the spirit of the death and carnage is worked into the land and then going on to create dreamlike and spiritual resonances hits a familiar spot. And this includes being reminded how much different Virginia was in my childhood from now.
And in some small ways George Saunders ripped off Connie Willis — slant eyed smugness on my part.