A TALE OF TWO COLORS
Appalachia native Sharyn McCrumb writes respectfully mystical tales of the often maligned mountain people. No
dumb-as-dirt hillbillies and just a few hell-bent rednecks dwell in her Appalachia,
though the newcomer yuppies looking for a scenic escape take some
knocks. A cast of recurring characters give
continuity to McCrumb’s novels, and her abiding love for the mountain
range and its people gives them credence.
In Ghost Riders, well-meaning Civil War re-enactors come to the hills with their old-time muskets and blue and gray uniforms. A local man who calls himself Rattler keeps a close eye on them. Blessed with the Sight, he knows better than most that the war isn’t really over. Not really.
all learned in history class that the Civil War pitted neighbor against
neighbor, and tore families apart with conflicting loyalties. McCrumb
recounts true stories of those neighbors and families, interweaving the
horrifying tales of deprivation and atrocities with chapters of her
modern-day characters’ actions.
The past, we learn from Rattler, lurks closer than we think. The
ghosts of the Civil War still come around, unable to let go of the
blood hatred, and drawn by the new conflicts that emulate it. “I
don’t hold with talking to dead people,” Rattler tells the re-enactors
after a suspiciously authentic looking soldier stops to ask directions
to his unit.
Here in the U.S. in the 21st century, we have the luxury of conducting our wars elsewhere. The Yankees sent south to clobber the Rebels went on home after the war and never looked back. But
the mountain people on the dividing line, some conscripted into the
Confederate army, some taking up arms for one side or the other,
couldn’t leave it behind. When they returned to their farms, the enemy often lived next door.
our war with Iraq ends (please, let it end), our soldiers, the ones who
made it through, will come home to the loving arms of their families
and the welcome of their communities. How will the Iraqis ever get over it? The ghosts will haunt the desert just as surely as they still traipse about the Appalachian mountains.
My only quibble with Ghost Riders is a certain linguistic randomness. A character might go on for pages speaking perfectly standard English but will suddenly say “afeared.” I mostly didn’t mind, though, as the story contains much to be afeared of. Read it if the Civil War interests you or even if it doesn’t. McCrumb
didn’t write about the Union and the Confederacy, but about the people
forced to choose sides, and the ongoing consequences.