Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Beautiful Glittering Life - Book Review


A Beautiful Glittering Life by J. D. R. Hawkins is the story of Hiram Summer's family during the first two years of the Civil War.  The novel describes the difficulties encountered by the northern Alabama family after Hiram enlists in the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment.  Author Hawkins focuses on Hiram's struggles in the Confederate Army and his son David's adventures at home.  When Hiram enlists, he places the responsibility of caring for the farm on his son's shoulders.  David does his chores, helps his mother, Caroline, and younger sisters, and still finds time for adventures with his friend Jake. 

We follow Hiram and his friend Bud through battles in the Eastern Theater including first and second Manassas, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  Meanwhile, back in Alabama, David and Jake sneak away to Union-occupied Huntsville where they meet a local family suffering at the hands of the Yankee invaders.  The boys press their luck and are captured by a schoolmate who has joined the Union forces.  The boys are released, but David loses his horse.  Yet life at home seems to go on relatively undisturbed in spite of the chaos gripping the country. 

The picture of life on the battlefield and home front proceeds at a rather uneventful pace without many dramatic moments.  Hiram and Bud survive battles before tragedy strikes at Fredericksburg.  David escapes Union troops at Huntsville and Caroline and David face down marauding Union soldiers.  After the Union troops leave Huntsville and the family learns that Hiram will be coming home for Christmas, the Summer family anticipates a return to pre-war normalcy.

This is a pleasant book that unfortunately lacks the emotional intensity to make it a compelling read.  Hawkins' novel lacks the building drama that makes the reader anxious for the next chapter.  The characters are likable but don't have the depth, especially Caroline, to bring them to life.  The conflicts in David's life --- desire to join the army, responsibilities to maintain the homestead, and dreams of joining the Pony Express --- are not fully exploited.  Interspersed with Hawkins' narrative are events from the Civil War timeline that provide a historical perspective.  The battle sequences lack the intensity to put us in the scene and more detail on camp life would be welcomed.   The seeds for the sequel were sown in an ending which was too abrupt in my opinion. 

A Beautiful Glittering Life is reminiscent of a story from The Walton's television show.  Young readers will find this a good introduction to life during the Civil War as seen through David's eyes.

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