Thursday, November 17, 2011

ELKHORN TAVERN

Jones, Douglas C. Elkhorn Tavern. NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1980. ST-Fic

Civil War novels generally focus on either a particular battle or a particular character. This novel carries the name of a major Civil War battle, Pea Ridge (better known as Elkhorn Tavern in the South), but its real focus is a group of characters, the Hasford family, homesteaders in rural Arkansas, and how their lives are affected by the aftershocks of that battle. War has at least temporarily claimed the Hasford family patriarch, Martin, who is in the rebel army in Virginia. At home are his wife, Ora; daughter, Calpurnia; and son, Roman.

A casualty of the battle, a wounded Union Army officer, finds his way to the Hasford doorstep. Ora Hasford and Tulip Crozier, an eccentric neighbor, are forced to amputate the officer's gangrenous left hand with makeshift tools in a harrowing scene that helps lend a human face to the horrors of war.

Elkhorn Tavern tells us the story of how an amputee learns to embrace love and cope with the difficulties that his missing hand presents. It also has several other stories to tell, however: how a woman in a perilous time and place faces life without the husband on whom she has depended; how a teen-aged boy and girl grow to maturity in that same perilous time and place; and how a family copes with predators of all stripes that the war has inadvertently unleashed.

Elkhorn Tavern is a great read for Civil War buffs, but will also interest persons who just like a good story well told. It's similar in some ways to Cold Mountain, but was published 17 years before that book first saw light of day. If you like this book I've got good news for you: author Jones has written a number of other novels about the Hasfords (Come Winter; Remember Santiago; Roman; and Winding Stair)- so your stay as a temporary guest of the family needn't end here.

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