Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: The Forge by T.S. Stribling

I am on a mission to read the (fiction)'s a challenge I set myself years ago, and I'm making slow but steady progress.  The Store, the second book in this trilogy, won the Pulitzer in 1933.  And, of course, I couldn't read the second book without reading the first!  I believe I purchased the book from either Amazon or AbeBooks, as the books are somewhat scarce - I don't think I was able to Mooch it.

The Forge introduces us to the Vaiden family, a seemingly normal family of the pre-Civil War South.  The book is an interesting look into the reactions of plantation owners and Southern aristocrats to the Civil War.  The Vaidens - how should I describe them?  Proud, somewhat dense, blind to their own shortcomings, but also kind-hearted (some of them).  The book follows the various members of the Vaiden family in the time just before, during, and just after the Civil War.  Outwardly, the book is just the simple story of this family, how they cope with the changes in the South after losing the war.  However, Stribling, while being a Southerner himself, takes a somewhat different view of the South than most others writing at the same time.  His tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the dying breed of Southern men and women that he knew as a young boy was often incredibly humorous.

Fair warning:  the book was published in 1931, and it was written about a period in history that was not so, ahem, socially conscious as we are today.  The Southern planters refer to any African-American person as the n-word.  There is a rape scene involving a slave girl and one of the planter's sons.  Women are seen as domestic goddesses and not much else.  Some of the Vaidens join the KKK after the war.  It is definitely a warts-and-all look at life in the Civil War and Reconstruction South.

But Stribling finds the humor in the attitudes and beliefs of the family.  I found myself chuckling at his one-liners quite often.  It is an interesting look at the "typical Civil-War-era Southerner" from a truly non-typical Southern viewpoint.  I didn't think I'd like the book; I guess I expected it to be dry and boring, but I found it really interesting and at times hilarious.  Four out of five Whatevers.  Recommended for Civil War buffs, those who like family sagas (because it is that, too), and anyone who wants to read a classic from one of our forgotten American authors.


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