A beautiful amalgamation
Liberty Fish, the protagonist of Stephen Wright's new novel, The Amalgamation Polka, is the only child of an abolitionist couple living in New York who constantly leave him in the care of his aunt as they go on their crusades. He's also the grandson of ardent slaveholders and South Carolina plantation owners, whose letters to their runaway daughter often cause her to take to her room for days. Liberty is nearly 17 when the Civil War starts, and he knows he has to go fight despite his parents' objections. Like so many other young men of his age, he finds that war is not at all what he thought it would be, and almost his entire regiment is killed in their first skirmish. Ultimately, he deserts the army after witnessing the cruelty of his compatriots and strikes out to find the storied Redemption Hall, where Liberty's slave-owning grandfather's enthusiastic and frightening experiments in amalgamation have left his once-glorious plantation in ruins. This dark story is nevertheless a joy to read. The language dances off the page with such fluidity that readers will feel compelled to read it aloud, even the ugly parts. The poetic descriptions given to acts of brutality, racism and hatred make them all the more horrible in the reader's mind. There are lovely parts to this story, too. Liberty's childhood is told in a series of heartwarming stories about strange visitors to his parents' house and his adventures prospecting in the wilds around his childhood home. The syntactic turns and wordplay will make any lover of language smile, even laugh out loud at the beauty of Wright's skill. The author of Meditations in Green, M31: A Family Romance and Going Native, Wright surely will take his place among the greats of American literature with this stirring novel. One hopes that this book will garner all the attention it deserves as a stunning American story of love, racism, a country in commotion and, yes, maybe even a little redemption. Sarah E. White is a freelance writer and reviewer in Arkansas.