Madden Examines Complex Legacy of the Civil War

By Scott, Chris | News Sentinel, November 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Madden Examines Complex Legacy of the Civil War


Scott, Chris, News Sentinel


"Touch one work," David Madden says of his own writing, and "the vibrations set all others in motion." The metaphor of a spider's web is an old one, and Madden admits that he might overuse it, but it's entirely appropriate to the subject of his latest book. "The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction: Readings and Writings from a Novelist's Perspective" is a collection of Madden's musings, in both stories and essays, on the great defining event of American history. From literary criticism on the state of Civil War scholarship to the fictional struggles of a veteran searching for meaning, Madden has constructed a volume that demonstrates the difficulties, and opportunities, Americans face while exploring their country's web of past, present, and future.

"It might be helpful," Madden writes, "if the reader were to keep in mind that I am from Knoxville in divided East Tennessee." Indeed, Madden's origins in a region noted for Unionist versus Secessionist violence has deeply affected his work. One of the signal wartime events of that region, the famed bridge-burning raid of 1861, involved men who remained anonymous even after the war out of fear of reprisal from their neighbors. Madden understands the personal nature of that conflict, and the bridge burners' stories form the core of one of the essays in "The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction." They also lie at the heart of the collection's fiction, which is represented primarily by excerpts from Madden's novel, "Sharpshooter." In it, an old man tries to understand the war in which he participated as a youth but still feels he missed. Willis Carr's story, full of insights into the nature of history and memory, is the narrative device through which Madden explores his fellow Americans' lack of understanding of the war and their resultant inability to resolve its legacies, including racism and distrust of government.

Narrative is important to Madden, a novelist, playwright and essayist who has delved deeply into the literature inspired by the war. For him, "all Southern novels are about the Civil War and Reconstruction," and the best of them is William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom! …

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