Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
by Allan Gurganus
published by A. A. Knopf
; distributed by Random House
718p. (really really long)
Told as an oral history of Lucy Marsden, who at 99 years
of age in 1984 is the oldest living Confederate widow. The story ends up being more about her husband,
"Captain" William Marsden (he was really a teenaged private, but time and Southern myth promoted him to Captain), and his relationships with Ned (his childhood best friend who dies in the war), Ned's mother (who blames Willie for Ned's death), and Castalia (one of the Marsden family's former slaves and later their housekeeper).
While this book has a lot of fascinating information* and stories about the South and the Civil War, it works on deeper levels as well. Gurganus was himself a Vietnam veteran and some critics actually consider this a book about a man recovering from Vietnam. I don't think the reading needs to be that specific: This is a book about recovering from the effects of any war. It deals with the guilt of the survivor, the anger of bereaved family, the difficulty of loving someone with so many skeletons in their closet. It also deals with the South's societal guilt/defensiveness surrounding slavery, the confusion of a new social order, and too many other things to list. And since it was written by Allan Gurganus, all of this is done really well, with liberal dosings of humor and well rounded characters.
This book was also made into a mini-series, but I haven't seen it and can't comment.
*But don't use it as a history textbook. There are a lot of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I don't think they detract from the book at all, and I even find that they work within the context of the story (being told from memory by a very old woman), this is just fair warning.