Near the end of the Civil War, General William Sherman of the Union Army marched across the south with 60,000 men. They cut a swath of destruction across Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, burning and looting as they went. The March, by E.L. Doctorow, follows several characters as they are caught up in this last monumental event of the war.
The first thing you notice about The March is the author’s unique writing style. Dialogue occurs within the narrative. No quotation marks or commas. This is an interesting break from most novels but can also make it difficult at times to separate the narrative and character’s thoughts from what is actually spoken. It takes a little getting used to and can still be confusing after several pages.
The large number of characters was also an issue. A new character is introduced nearly every chapter in the beginning. And new characters are still popping up two thirds of the way through the book. At times I would find myself trying to remember who I was reading about. Some characters are even dropped completely in the middle of the story with little in the way of closure. It makes for an interesting, but also at times, confusing read. Another consequence of having such a large number of characters is the reader is not given much in the way of background. This makes it difficult to become attached to any one character, and so when one dies or drops from the story you feel nothing. It is also hard to feel anything for many of the characters because so few are likable.
The brightest spot in The March is the relationship between a freed slave girl and a young soldier. This is one of the few parts of the story that feels fleshed out. They attempt to find their way in a very difficult situation. It is interesting to see the way they grow together and learn to cope with their different backgrounds.
Although this is a novel about the Civil War, this is the wrong place to look for detailed battles. The various battles in the novel are glossed over and actually seem to be a minor part of the story. This book focuses mainly on the characters relationships with their environment and the war as a whole.
The March was not as good as I’d hoped but neither was it disappointing. If you enjoy E.L. Doctorow or have an interest in war, the Civil War in particular, give it a look.