Review of Chenneville: A Novel of Murder, Loss, and Vengeance by Paulette Jiles
Jiles's newest stark, beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction tracks former Union soldier John Chenneville as he travels the country seeking vengeance for the brutal murder of his sister and family.
The people in this county had not been like this before, if he could recall it correctly--this chaos, this land of criminals and casual murder.
I got full-body chills when I saw that Paulette Jiles had a new historical fiction novel coming out. The enthusiasm of my obsession with her book News of the World was (borderline? full-on?) irritating to the rest of my book club years ago, but I couldn't help my love.
In Jiles's Chenneville, titular character John Chenneville is a former Union soldier who has spent the year since the end of the war recovering from a severe brain injury. Now he's on a quest for revenge for the brutal, senseless murder of his sister and her family.
How long do you keep it up, how far do you go to find a man like this?
The mayhem of lawlessness and martial law means that crimes are going unchecked all over. Chenneville single-mindedly travels through the Reconstruction-era United States on a relentless search for A.J. Dodd, who has slaughtered various innocents and, Chenneville believes, requires Chenneville to exact justice upon him.
It occurred to him that this was what normal people did. That this was ordinary and common and that these ordinary, common things were attained at great cost; they were actually fragile and could be destroyed even in a matter of days by artillery, by riots, by hatred.
Along the way, he encounters a colorful cast of characters who either renew his faith in humanity or make him deeply question it. Chenneville's vengeance spurs him on, and he pushes forward despite encountering setbacks, grave injuries, a US Marshal's determined search for John himself, the distraction of a clever, brave woman, and the pain of losing those dear to him.
Jiles writes gorgeously about the unforgiving landscape, post-Civil-War wasteland, and the sprigs of promising new beginnings. As always, her main characters are richly layered, struggle with terrible circumstances, retain strong moral compasses, and find glimmers of hope in the darkest of days.
They regarded each other silently. Something had happened, something he had not wanted to happen. Death and illness had brought them together as if these things were orbits and they heavenly bodies flung into certain trajectories to accompany each other through trials, troubles, and perhaps even times of happiness.
Minor note: I love that toward the end of the story, the text briefly references Captain Kidd from Jiles's News of the World ("...a man had come who read aloud from newspapers gathered from the entire world over, including stories of polar explorers and sinking ships in the Atlantic Ocean...").
This was heartbreaking and lovely historical fiction from Paulette Jiles. I loved it.
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and William Morrow & Company.
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