In this powerful novel—the capstone to Richard Marius’s illustrious career—a gripping double murder propels the small, Bible-obsessed town of Bourbonville, Tennessee, into connection with the wider society opening up in the years following World War II.
At the center: Charles Alexander, twenty, groomed from birth by his mother to be a Baptist minister,
teetering on the edge of his faith. In his last year of college, working late one night at the newspaper office, he accidentally witnesses the murders. The killer is Hope Kirby, World War II hero, member of a large mountain clan of farmers, who has discovered his wife’s infidelity. Although Kirby’s code of honor requires that he exact vengeance, it won’t allow him to kill an innocent bystander, and Charles goes free, promising not to tell what he’s seen.
But Charles does tell, and we watch, fascinated, as a trial, an appeal, and a new terror unleashed on the countryside draw the entire county into the action. Among the people most closely involved: the skillful, overweight, hard-drinking lawyer for the defense; two Baptist preachers—one liberal, one a strict constructionist—each with a secret to hide; a lady banker determinedly headed for trouble; a big-hearted good-
old-boy sheriff; Charles’s disturbingly freewheeling, freethinking sometime college girlfriend. Most importantly, we see the Kirby clan: Pappy, whose extraordinary patience, hard work, and self-reliance cause his hardscrabble farm to prosper until he’s turned out by the coming of a national park; and the five Kirby sons, who are trying hard to make a new place for themselves in the town.
As these and others play their parts in the affair of honor, we see Charles and the Kirbys begin to reexamine their dramatically opposing but equally encapsulated ways of viewing life—fundamentalist Christian and ancient “code of the hills.” And as the novel draws to its climactic and satisfying close, we see them—and finally the entire town—profoundly, permanently changed.
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I first met Richard Marius, as is appropriate for an editor, through his writing--specifically by working on his second novel, Bound for the Promised Land, which came my way in 1973. By the time I met Richard face to face several months later, I had already traveled from his fictional territory of Bourbon County in East Tennessee to California with as contentious and god-struck crew of gold rushers as anyone would ever want to know, and I was extremely curious about their author. I was not disappointed.
As anyone who ever met him knew, Richard was as much fun, as full of stories and energy, and exuberant good feelings as the oversized mythical characters who peopled his novels. And he was an editor's dream.
Richard was simply never as a loss for words. They poured out of him in a Southern accent but in cadences of the King James Bible, which had been read aloud to him as a child from cover to cover several times over, and with a delight in expression found in Shakespeare. Sometimes there were too many words. But he was never averse to cutting.
One of his favorite stories was about arriving at the Knopf offices with two bags full of the 2000 pages that were the first draft of his third novel, After the War, and dropping them off with a thud that reverberated throughout the entire building, flinging out his arms and saying "Here it is!" We lifted whole sections from books, one long enough to make a small novel by itself.
He was also never at a loss for a story. And these stories found their way into four novels, set over a hundred years in his ficitonal Bourbon County. The Coming of Rain, published in 1969, Bound for the Promised Land, in 1976, After the War in 1992, and now, his final novel, published on September 18, 2001, An Affair of Honor. Each of the novels is set against a historical event of major importance--the westward immigration, the aftermath of the Civil War, the dislocations of the First and Second World Wars. But these events happen to individual characters so rich and well-realized that they fairly leap of the page, folk he described in The Coming of Rain as "country people posessed of a rich, Biblical imagination." People who often took their origin from the local stories he published from high school onwards in his hometown Lenoir City News.
In the same way that his journalism and his own storytelling worked its way into the novels, and his historical training gave them weight, his novelistic ability helped make his biographies of two of the three great Reformation figures--Thomas More (1983) and Martin Luther (1994)--works of breathtaking readability along with their original and solid scholarship.
Writing novels and Reformation history was only part of Richard's life, the part I knew best, of course. But he had a whole other career in academia, having been a professor of Reformation History at the University of Tennessee and director of Expository Writing at Harvard from 1978 to 1998, when he retired. Over 30,000 freshmen had their first taste of college level writing in Marius's Expository Writing Program, the only required course at Harvard. He was immensely involved in the program, attending every section and always teaching one or more classes himself. Two books, A Writer's Companion and A Short Guide to Writing About History, grew out of these experiences. A popular, beloved teacher of Twain and Faulkner, he also, during summers, directed the Governor's academy for high school teachers of writing in Tennessee.
I and all who knew and loved him miss him, but it is a wonderful gift to have this last book he wrote, An Affair of Honor, finished only months before he died, the final book of his Bourbon County Trilogy.
Praise for After the War by Richard Marius
"A rich and wonderful novel . . . an old-fashioned blockbuster chock full of wildness and enough excitement for three novels . . . It moved me, made me laugh out loud, broke my heart, and made me so tense that at several points I could barely turn the pages . . . The man is a consummate storyteller and a loving, wise, and compassionate writer."
-Robert Ward, New York Times Book Review
"It's not merely good. It is amazingly good . . . a feast of Americana, rich in history and biography, riveting in plot, lavish in humanity, graced at all points by keen intelligence and masterful prose."
-Andy Solomon, The Boston Globe
"He has created a blockbuster . . . After the War earns its accolades because of its broad vision and superb storytelling . . . It is a tribute to Richard Marius's talent that after all he writes you want to hear more, not less."
-William Rodarmor, San Francisco Chronicle
"Sumptuous . . . a big novel packed with classic themes: the deadly consequences of ambition and greed; the heaven-bound quest of the soul; industrial progress vs. the agrarian ideal; the ties that bind parents to children, men to women, people to place."
-Margarita Fichtner, The Miami Herald
"A loving if unrelenting vision of the South . . . both a big, old-fashioned book stuffed with hardy characters and adorable eccentrics, and a daring assault on all such sentimentality."
-Paul Skenazy, The Chicago Tribune
"Casts a burnished spell. The moonshine whiskey is potent, and religion is as lethal as the Spanish Flu that rakes the country in 1918. The Tennessee townpeople provide plenty of Scotch-Irish humor. This is fine, somber writing."
-Cary Holladay, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"'Magnificent' describes the expansiveness of Mr. Marius's vision and the eloquence of the captivating prose he sculpts with masterly precision to convey that era's [World War I] multifaceted complexity."
-Bob Summer, The Atlanta Constitution
"I flat-out love this book-it is poignant, wise, commonsensical, mature, and insightful. In short, Richard Marius has given us a great and glorious novel, fun to read and yet a true work of art which deserves a permanent position on major literary lists."
-Tom C. Armstrong, The Nashville Tennessean
"One of the most remarkable novels I've ever read, a panoramic saga of life and love and hatred and violence, a compelling story that is almost impossible to put down . . . deserves to be recognized as one of the great contemporary novels."
-Don McKinney, The Hilton Head Packet
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Book Description VINTAGE, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110099449145