Michael K Smith’s Civil War novel, Home Again, is a fantastic debut.
Zach and Luke come of age right when the nation breaks into two and both young men enlist. Zach fights for the North, while Luke joins up with the South. Even though they are on opposing sides, both young men learn valuable lessons about life, death, and war.
War is hell. The best war novels remember this and don’t idealize war. It’s hard to glorify the killing of other human beings, especially young men who haven’t had the opportunity to experience life yet, and the stories that do fall into the category of propaganda. Smith wisely remembers that war is hell. The two characters in his novel aren’t fervent supporters of either the North or the South in the beginning. They both have different reasons to enlist, but they also join because they are young and pretty much everyone else their age is fighting. Even though they come from the same region, they end up on opposing sides. Distancing the characters from the propaganda right from the start allows the author to keep a steady path to telling the truth as much as possible given this is historical fiction. It pulls all readers into the story, not just the diehard supporters of one side. Balance is crucial for this genre and Smith nailed it.
The author also shows he is quite knowledgeable about the American Civil War. History buffs will enjoy all the historical tidbits he sprinkles into his story and he inserted several of the most flamboyant and well-known people from the time period. This heightens the reading experience and helps anchor the story firmly into history. The author’s passion for history becomes clear early on. Smith’s writing is visual, which is a must when crafting this type of story. The battle scenes come alive and the torment that the characters experience is vivid.
At times his foreshadowing is too blatant and he tells the reader exactly what will happen later in the war instead of planting a seed in the reader’s mind. This is perfectly acceptable in non-fiction, but in historical fiction it can be jarring since the outcome shouldn’t be known. People who love historical fiction have an amazing ability to forget or push back the facts and they allow the story to sweep them away to a different time. The reader wants to keep reading to find out what will happen so don’t ruin the surprise even if most readers are familiar with the outcome of the war. Pretend they aren’t.
For the most part, the writing is solid. Occasionally there are minor blips, such as missing quotation marks or words. Overall, the author tells a powerful story about two young men who learn the hard truth about war. This novel also shows that the author has a promising future ahead of him and he is one to keep an eye on. Hopefully he’ll keep writing so we can see history through his characters.