David H. Jones new novel Two Brothers: One North,One South tells the true story of the Prentiss brothers William and Clifton whose familial love will be strained by the Civil War. The book opens in May 1865 with mortally injured William Prentiss admittance to the Armory Square Hospital. Despite being a Rebel the poet and part-time nurse Walt Whitman takes pity on the boy and acts as his companion until the end. Whitman learns that William’s older brother Clifton who chose to fight for the Union is also a patient in the
Armory Square Hospital. After William’s death, Whitman will serve as a link between the brothers and starts to bridge the gap for a family that has been divided by war.
The majority of the book is Whitman’s relating William’s war time experience with aid from Clifton as well as two other Prentiss brothers John and Melville. In addition telling the Prentiss’s brother’s story, Jones also gives much space to the Cary women Hetty, Jenny, and Constance the reigning bells of Confederate Richmond. The main criticism I have with the book is the amount written about the Cary’s which alone could have been dedicated to an entire novel. This is supposed to be a novel about two brothers and while the Cary women are interesting characters their presence took away from William and Clifton. From my experience, storyline problems occur in other Civil War novels. An author will tell an expansive story but at the same time take away from the main characters by spending too much time with supporting characters.
Because of the excessive focuses on the Cary’s, William and Clifton get lost in their own story; in particular Clifton gets the less space. Jones provides great detail for why William decides to fight for the South, yet William is only allowed a few lines before his brother yells him down or storms out of the room. The main problem of Civil War fiction is the pro-South bias of its author, I have read many novels that present the southern perspective, yet there are few that give the northern perspective the same amount of ink.
The one area of this book that I thought was outstanding was the detailing of the hectic first days of the war when it seemed likely that Maryland would follow her fellow slave-states and secede from the Union. Jones made the conflict accessible and understandable, it is clear that he did his homework in researching this book. The dialog is convincing and realistic, though at times some of the dialog would have served well as an explanation note. But Jones captures the flavor of the speech of the upper class. This book will do well with the history buffs and would make a good Christmas gift for those Civil War enthusiast’s on your Christmas list who has it all.
4 out 5 stars.
Reviewed by Michelle L. Hamilton
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