Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War, is an extraordinarily well written gay romance, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Told in first person, present tense, it flows beautifully, with emotion, drama, villains, heroes, and good friends.
This rest was pure poetry. So lyrically told, the story of loving a man during the Civil War came to life with memorable phrases and passages that evoked a setting without a simplistic description.
There is a wonderful grittiness to this story, created by the hardships of war–Drew’s lack of shoes and most clothing, the tortures he undergoes for the amusement of those in the Rebel camp. The fact that most of the men looked upon Drew as something less than human, and how the blond Colossus appears strong, but is but a little boy inside, missing home and craving human touch.
With Mann’s command of prose, you hear the campfire crackling, feel the anger between the enemies, both in the war and within the camp. We smell the gunpowder and the sizzling bacon, you hear the pain and longing in the character’s voices, as well as the cracking of the bullwhip. The character’s pain touches you as though it was your own. The story causes you to examine your own feelings on a variety of subjects.
Mann gives us a history lesson without the lecture. You sense the cruelty of war, empathize with both sides, and you want most everyone to get home safely.
Anyone who reads or writes gay fiction should read this book, and then read it again. This is the way it should be done. The subject of male/male love isn’t glossed over, but rather dealt with in a realistic way, with the feelings of guilt and anger commensurate with the historical period. You cheer Ian and Drew on, but fear for their utter destruction at the same time. The story delves deep within your soul, turns you inside out and rights you again, with your senses as you’ve never known them to be.
This isn’t a boy meets boy, boy loves boy, let’s get it on kind of book. Their relationship is one of secrets and worry, doubt and danger. It is raw and fierce. Drew faces unimaginable horrors, while, to keep more than one secret, Ian must sit back and watch.They must fight against religious zealotry, the incongruity of which is profound in Mann’s portrayal of Sarge and George.
For Ian and Drew, what starts out as compassion and simple emotional comfort becomes the foundation upon which their attraction is built, and upon which Mr. Mann has created this masterpiece.
The punishments Drew faced were indeed congruent with punishments and tortures delivered on both sides of the conflict–lest we forget Andersonville and its ilk. Neither side was exempt from cruelty. Civil War Punishment
The one problem, for me, is first person. Ian, who tells the story, supplies rich details of his surroundings, the people he deals with, his prisoner come lover, Drew Conrad, all the evil that exists in the hatred for those on the other side of the war, but we know precious little about Ian himself.
He likes bear-like men, he has lived for years as a coward, but found his feet upon meeting Drew, but I got no sense of what Ian looked like, other than he was a small man, compared to the Achilles Drew. Minor point, perhaps, but I like to imagine the characters. The lovely cover doesn’t portray the men as described, particularly Drew.
I will read this again, because Ian and Drew are such special characters. Gay fiction will never be the same for me. Jeff Mann raised the bar considerably.
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