It’s estimated that around 500 women passed themselves off as men so they could fight in the Civil War. In the haunting Neverhome, Laird Hunt deftly imagines one such situation and its heartbreaking repercussions.

She calls herself Ash Thompson, a farmer who enlists to fight for the Union. Ash quickly earns a reputation as a brave and stoic soldier, even in the direst of battles. But Ash is actually Constance, an Indiana farmer’s wife who left her husband behind to fight. Her reasons become clearer as this beautifully paced novel unfolds, and Ash goes from a war hero to a broken woman looking for a way home.

After Ash is revealed as a woman and accused of spying for the South, she is jailed in deplorable conditions, nearly going mad while awaiting a chance to escape. On her trek back to her farm, many of those she encounters help her in their own ways: a trio of orphaned sisters; the wife of the General who commanded Ash. Others stick to their own path, fighting their demons as they make their way home from war. “Here and there you would cross a discharged veteran still had bombs and bullets flying in his eyes,” she said.

Hunt is at the top of his game with Neverhome, a mesmerizing book whose quiet surface belies its rich depths, up until its heartbreaking conclusion. His impeccable ear for authentic Civil War-era dialect—and his vivid battle scenes—breathe life into a novel that explores what happens when the call of duty collides with the lure of home.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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