No Resting Place, by William Humphrey*****

norestingplace I was drawn to this story because I had read William Humphrey’s Home from the Hill, brilliant Southern fiction that was a contender for the National Book Award, and I couldn’t imagine letting anything written by this author pass me by. Thanks go to Net Galley and Open Road Media for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. The book will be re-released digitally February 17, 2017.

Humphrey tells this story like no one else. The Trail of Tears is one of the most heinous crimes any government has wrought upon its aboriginal peoples, a shameless land grab that stole all of the lands belonging to Cherokees and several other tribes of the Southeastern USA. It’s a story that has to be told by someone; those that have American Indian roots may have access to oral history, but for Anglos like me, if it isn’t written down, future generations may not know about it. And by telling it as if it were historical fiction, Humphrey is able to add dialogue and make it more accessible. That said, the reader will need to bring strong literacy skills to this novel. Humphrey’s fiction is always hyper-literate, all the more so in this case because he meticulously researched it. It is the last thing he wrote, a genuine labor of love, and it shows.

That said, nobody can make this real-life event a happy one, and nobody should. It’s brutal. I was about a quarter of the way in, reading in tiny bites in order to make the reading more bearable, when I began to regret having committed to reading and reviewing it. In the end, however, I am glad I did read it, because I learned a lot of new things about the various tribes and although Humphrey’s narrative isn’t enjoyable to read because of the subject matter, he does it more eloquently and in more conscientious detail than anyone else that I’ve read. I say this having taught a unit on the Trail of Tears for a number of years; I am not an expert on this part of American history, but I also didn’t come to it without prior knowledge.

It’s a story that will break your heart—and if you already know the basics, it will do so all over again—but it’s also a story everyone should know. Like the Holocaust, it’s a part of history whose recounting must not be permitted to pass from our knowledge. As for me, I read more than one book at a time, and I found this was less likely to leave me feeling depressed if I alternated it with lighter material. It is likely to be of special interest to those of Cherokee descent and also to Texans, whose forefather Sam Houston is featured here.

The writing style may seem peculiar to younger readers because it is written in a formal style not often used anymore, but there is no denying the word-smithery that makes this cruel event come alive on the page.  Highly recommended to those with the literary skills and stamina required to pursue it.

An Undisturbed Peace: A Novel, by Mary Glickman**

anundisturbedpeaceThe blurb for this novel reads, “A Jewish immigrant, a Cherokee woman, and a black slave find love, friendship, and redemption in the midst of the tragedy of the Trail of Tears”. I thought it sounded interesting, and it might have been, but really, not so much. Just as a truly great writer can take the dullest of topics and make it shiny and fascinating, so may an interesting concept leave the reader squirming and thinking of other things she might want to do or read, if the narrative doesn’t flow well. And although I usually have tremendous sympathy for writers, since I write a little now and then, I just couldn’t find any redemptive quality in Glickman’s novel. It feels as if someone has gone to a lot trouble to research the topic, and the whole story is going to be strung together around that research, come what may. In other words, instead of assisting the writer with the story, the story appears to be there as a forum to present research. And so thank you, just the same Net Galley, and thank you also, Open Road Integrated Media, but I can’t recommend this book to anyone. And if I felt this way after slogging through a galley I received free of charge, how might I have felt if I had paid for it?

The story starts out with sex, which rather startled me, and it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story in overall tone, but hey, they say sex sells, so maybe the editors wanted her to open the story with sex. Fine, fine. I got through the first chapter and set the book aside so I could start fresh once my irritation had ebbed.

But the start of the story is only the start of the book’s problems. The figurative language is often trite—“buxom beauties”, and a Cherokee whose face is—what else?—“chiseled”. Description should drive the story forward, but it doesn’t happen here. There are huge stretches of nothing but narrative, and then impossibly long monologues in other places. There is an occasional interesting description of setting, but it comes undone as soon as we go back, as we must, to characters and plot.

It’s kind of a mess.

I found myself wondering whether the author might not find greater success in writing narrative nonfiction, where she could focus on her information, but spin it out in the format of a story, but I just didn’t see anything here that showed promise.

Could be this will be the next National Book or Pulitzer winner and I will have been the one that said the book was hopeless; stranger things have happened. But I have to call them as I see them, and although no doubt a lot of worthwhile research has been conducted, the story itself fails to flow. It feels cobbled together, forced, and contrived. If I felt a little editing here and there would be useful, I’d say so, but it’s pretty much the same from start to merciful end.

Not this time.