May 27, 1996
Like father, like son? The publisher is aggressively linking Shaara's first novel with The Killer Angels, the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning (1974) novel about the Battle of Gettysburg by his father, Michael Shaara (d. 1988). Indeed, the son's book is a prequel to the father's, following some of its central characters, generals all, from 1858 until 1863 and Gettysburg. The good news is that, while not matching his father's beautifully wrought prose, Shaara tells a tale impressive in its sweep, depth of character and historic verisimilitude. Generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Winfield Scott Hancock are back fighting for the North, and Robert E. Lee for the South. The story is told from their points of view, along with that of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Each is a reluctant warrior who emerges as a gifted soldier possessed of a strong moral conscience in a time of bitter partisanship and hatred. Because it covers five eventful years, the narrative is sometimes overwhelmed by its wealth of dramatic material; the battles, though convincingly realized, tend to blur into one another. Yet, like his father, Shaara gets deeply into the minds of his protagonists, particularly Stonewall Jackson, who, though shy and deeply religious, proved to be a brutally efficient military leader. Like father, like son? Not quite, but the Shaara genes, it seems, are in fine shape. Major ad/promo; author tour. (July) FYI: Gods and Generals will debut in Gettysburg during the July 4th week, to tie in with the annual Civil War reenactment.