House Divided deserves to be dusted off and reread. Ben Ames Williams gives us believable characters, high drama, and superb dialogue, all resting on an extensive base of facts about the War Between the States.
Although the Currain family of Virginia own slaves, they are skeptical of secessionist propaganda and assertions that the South can whip the North. When letters are found revealing that their father was Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather, the five adult Currains are shattered. Each attempts to find some way of living down the horrible shame of their kinship to “the black ape.”
As Williams follows the Currains through the war, his characters take the reader close to historical figures like Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth without taking his eye off the Currains. As he shows his characters’ quite ordinary responses to extraordinary situations, readers learn details of daily life in the Confederacy. A less skillful writer would have crammed the facts into fat paragraphs of description.
The novel’s message that “most of us, in the end, stand with our own people,” is worth remembering as we send American soldiers into foreign combat.
If you can heft this whopping novel (1500+ pages), you’ll find House Divided worth reading.House Divided, a novel of the Civil War By Ben Ames Williams Houghton Mifflin, 1947 1514 pages #7 on 1947 bestseller list My grade: A-