“Died on me finally. He had to.”
Did everyone in America watch the made for tv movie of this book in 1994 starring Cicely Tyson, Diane Lane, Anne Bancroft, and Donald Sutherland, or was it just our family? We watched it and it was one of those big family moment things, even though, a) we probably shouldn’t have (probably not really enough context for 12 year old me, and b) why in the world were we so enthralled by it?
The book is also enthralling in its own way. The narrative voice is incredibly distinct and strong, and the plot being told, as well as the way the book brings in both modern context and the one hundred previous years. It’s a book that’s so similar to a few other books they basically form a sub-genre at this point. I am thinking specifically of Fried Green Tomatoes, which predates by about a year and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which predates it by about 15 years. I mean, it’s also basically Interview with the Vampire, too, if you think about it. Regardless of the exact originality here, each stands out.
So the book begins with the narrator talking to someone, possibly a reporter, about her life, now at 99 years old. She’s the oldest surviving widow of a Civil War soldier, who she married around 1900 when she was 15 and he 50. He was only a boy during the war, 16 or so by war’s end, and so when she meets him, he’s the vaunted local celebrity “Captain Marsden”, a Confederate soldier. The novel is both about joining into a household, where she battles his childhood servant (a freed enslaved woman who stays on) for control of the house, deals with his PTSD from the war, and has an ungodly number of children, leading up to the present day, where she has to deal with the office politics of a nursing home.
This is a looooooong novel. Don’t let the 800 pages fool you; it’s a dense 800 pages. As an audiobook, we’re talking 50 hours, which makes it ten hours shorter than War and Peace, but 20 hours long than Ulysses.