Review by Simon Barrett, Senior Editor, Book Reviews, Blogger News Network
Historical Fiction is a notoriously difficult genre to be successful at, particularly when it concerns well-documented and relatively modern history. In world history America is a relatively new country, and without doubt the most defining moment was the American Civil War. A war that tore at the very fabric of the young country. Weaving a fictional or factional story within this backdrop is a long hard road. Often times historical novels fail miserably, they warp the known facts, and fans of the genre are often amateur history sleuths, the most minor deviation from the known facts causes derision.
This is not the case in Two Brothers, yes there is an element of invention, there are no known written records of many of the personal interactions between people that were involved in the conflict, and it is with backdrop that David Jones inserts his dialog.
There is no question that Two Brothers has been meticulously researched, no stone has been left unturned. A greatly over used description of the Civil War is ‘it pitted brother against brother’, yes there were examples, but for the most part families stayed together and supported one side or the other based more on geographical location than ideology.
David Jones uses Two Brothers to explore one instance where indeed a family was split in their loyalties, William Prentiss opting to support the southern interests as a lowly private, while brother Clifton Prentiss becomes a Major, an officer, for the Union forces.
Fate finds these brothers wounded yet both in the same medical facility, William having had a leg amputated in a battlefield triage unit, and Clifton with a serious chest wound. The two are in different parts of the facility, it would be improper to mix officers and mere privates.
Author David Jones uses a unique and superbly clever way to tell the story from three different viewpoints. The book opens with William dying from complications from the amputation of his leg. However during his final weeks he had been befriended by poet Walt Whitman. Whitman was a firm supporter of the Union, yet as a humanitarian befriended anyone and everyone injured in the war. This incidentally is fact.
It was Walt Whitman that comforted the young William Prentiss in his last weeks, William gains succor from having Walt as a confessor. The elder Prentiss brothers John and Melville head to the hospital, alas too late for William. The brothers gather around the bed of their other fallen hero Clifton, Walt is invited to join them. And so the story unfolds. Walt talking for the dead William about the Confederate cause, and Clifton as the Union representative. The action changing from hospital, to home, and battlefield.
Rarely have I read a book as powerful as Two Brothers. David Jones has done a masterful job with this book. I am a history buff, although the Civil War is not my forte, I cannot fault this story. It has stayed tried and true to the facts as they are known. I cannot imagine how many thousands of hours David Jones has invested in this project.
Oh, and David, if you read this review, let me say this. If you ever decide to write straight fact over faction book, I have a publisher that I am certain would love to talk to you.