Back in 2006, I read what has become one of my favorite Civil War novels of all time, Geraldine Brooks’s March. The novel ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction that same year, and I still remember reading an interview with Brooks not long after in which she said when she’d answered the phone that morning and was told her Civil War novel titled March had won a Pulitzer, she’d automatically assumed they meant E. L. Doctorow’s The March, not her own book.
After finally having read Doctorow’s similarly named, similarly themed, and wholly different novel, I can see why she might’ve made that assumption. The March is every bit as brilliant as March; it’s just different, and perhaps less appealing to the masses. It’s more violent, for one thing, features a broader range of characters, and it’s written with a lot more subtlety as well. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, I’d still go back to Geraldine Brooks. But if I’d had to pick the winner of the Pulitzer that year, I’d probably still be regretting whichever decision I’d made. TIE.
As for Doctorow’s novel itself, I can’t come up with a better way to describe it than the way Walter Kirn of the New York Times did in 2005. So, and maybe this is cheating, but whatever, I’m just going to link to his review and send you over there to get the skinny. The way he describes Sherman’s infamous march of 62,000 Union soldiers through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864 as a snake-like beast with little sense from the head of what the tail was up to (and little interest too, for that matter), is absolutely perfect. There’s no better way to tell you what this novel is about — and how fascinating and gripping it is — than the way Kirn tells you.
If you’re at all interested in Civil War fiction or even just in powerfully great writing, this is a novel not to miss. Check out Kirn’s review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/books/review/25kirn.html?pagewanted=all. And then go get yourself a copy, already!
Highly, HIGHLY recommended, and I won’t be at all surprised if this one ends up as number 1 on my list of best books read in 2012 next January. It’d take a masterpiece to beat it. Do not miss!