American Civil War Dreamscape
Madison Smartt Bell takes on Nathan Forrest.
Devil’s Dream (Pantheon), Bell’s newest novel, portrays the controversial fellow Tennessean, Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest. A fascinating character both condemned and celebrated, Forrest was a rags-to-riches millionaire who enlisted in the Confederate Army as private and was quickly promoted to general as his talents, enormous intelligence, and fearlessness were recognized. He is remembered for the massacre at Fort Pillow and for his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, reportedly serving as its first Grand Wizard.
Bell raises the stakes of his narrative by having it narrated in the third person, from the perspective of Henri, a Creole who joins Forrest’s rangers in the summer of 1861. That Henri was killed at the battle of Chickamauga some two years later unhinges a straight-ahead chronology with the surreal overtones of a dreamscape. And Bell makes it work.