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In the cannon of Civil War fiction Missouri's place in history has often been passed over for the more famous and larger conflicts in the east and south. Though Paulette Jiles' debut novel, "Enemy Women," attempts to bridge that chasm, sadly it serves as little more than filler rubble at the bottom of the canyon. The novel's unfocussed beginning, impedes the identification of Adair Colley as the story's protagonist, instead we are left to wander among the members of the Colley family. Slowly as the family is separated by the misfortunes of war, the story settles on Adair, a young woman who, in an era where nearly every one has chosen sides, Union or Confederate, seemingly has no particular loyalty to either side. Her brother, John Lee, has fled into the hills to evade capture by the Federal soldiers who also have beaten and arrested her father, looted their farm, and stole their horses. Adair and her two sisters head north on foot in an effort to win their father's freedom and she soon finds herself in a St. Louis prison accused of aiding the Rebel bushwhackers. During her confinement Adair is interrogated by Major William Neumann, a man who longs to be out fighting in the field instead of commanding a prison filled with women and children. Of course Major Neumann is destined to fall in love with Adair and when his transfer to a field command in Alabama is granted he helps her escape from prison and vows to find her after the war is over. And once again Adair finds herself afoot, this time heading south back to the family farm, where she hopes when the war is over her family will one day be reunited. Jiles uses historical excerpts from letters, diaries, official accounts, and whole paragraphs from nonfiction works to preface each chapter, but they interrupt her narrative and stop the story cold in its tracks. She obviously used these materials, all previously published (there is absolutely no new material here), as research for her novel and if it appeared anywhere in the book it should have been referenced in author's notes at the end. Jiles' knowledge of southeastern Missouri's geography and her descriptions of it are nothing less than extraordinary, so much so that the landscape itself is almost transformed into a character. Sadly the same cannot be said for the rest of Jiles' characterizations, which are two dimensional and as thin as the paper they are written on. We learn little about the lives of Major Neumann, Adair or her family prior to 1864, and know next to nothing about their thoughts and desires past their immediate needs, which drive the thin veil of her contrived plot. "Enemy Women" is clearly a case where the characters serve as pawns on the chessboard of plot. Had Jiles let the characters think, act and speak for themselves this could have been a great book in the pantheon of Civil War fiction rather than the disappointing, mediocre work of historical fiction that it turned out to be.
About three-fourths of the way through Enemy Women, the heroine Adair tells trivial, tedious stories to Lisa and Rosalie, who have taken her into their home. Adair wants them to fall asleep so she can decamp with Whiskey, her horse who was stolen and is now in the possession of these two women. This episode could serve as a metaphor for the entire novel, most of which is intolerably boring. The author tries to keep us awake with the clever literary device of dispensing with quotation marks, perhaps in hopes we will remain alert so as to identify what is dialogue and what isn't. But cheap tricks with punctuation are no substitute for a good tale well told. It does appear the author has done some admirable historical research for Enemy Women, though I must take that on faith. All in all, I wish I had used my time to re-read Gone With the Wind.
It may be the author's intention to omit quotation marks, but it makes it too challenging to read through it. I like to curl up, and read without trying to decide if it is someone speaking, or part of the story, scenery, event, etc. I have not finished the book, and probably won't because of the horrible punctuation, it is simply too much work to try to figure out what the difference is between the character talking, and rests of the print. was very interested in the book until I found out the author didn't follow common punctuation rules.
Sounded the a great read, but indeed is was not. What had the potential to be a great novel turned out to be what appeared to be an author who had access to civil war documents and tried to retro fit a novel around them. While interesting they were of no relationship to the story so became an add-on. Will not recommend it.
I was very disappointed with this novel, mostly because it had so much POTENTIAL to be a great book. The author seems to have been stuck between genres, neither hitting the romance or history genre on the head, but flopping between the two and doing neither justice. Her diary excerpts at the beginning of each chapter completely distract from the story and are more reminiscent of a scholarly piece of writing than a work of fiction. The were just unnecessary. But the biggest tragedy of this novel is the there is NO ENDING!! I was ticked off when I made it all the way through the NEEDLESS passages (and even needless chapters and several redundences) to have NO PAY-OFF. If Jiles had cut out the needless banter and excerpts she could have had the chance to give us an ending. As the book is now, the ending is more of a half-way point where she should have continued on. WHAT A SHAME!