I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Crown, 2014. Hardcover, 304 pages.
In this historical novel, the story of Rosetta Edwards Wakefield is presented in the first person. This adds a level of intimacy that draws the reader further into the story. Throughout the novel, one feels what Rosetta felt and gains a greater understanding of her character and what it took to drive her actions.
The novel opens in Flat Creek, New York during the early part of 1862. Rosetta knows her beau, Jeremiah Wakefield, and his friends plan to enlist. However, Rosetta does not want him to go without having the chance to first be his wife. Thus with two weeks to go before Jeremiah leaves, they marry. Shortly after Jeremiah and his friends Henry and Jimmy O’Malley and Sullivan “Sully” Cameron leave, an event happens that causes Rosetta to also leave her new home. She follows the path her husband took and enlisted in the Army as Ross Stone, the last name being a play on a nickname her husband gave her.
At first, Jeremiah protests this action but reluctantly agrees to have her along after she revealed her reasons. Rosetta, as Ross, trained with her husband and their childhood friends. Then they all wait for their first bit of action. During this time, their group adopts a fellow new recruit named Will into their fold. Before summer is out, Rosetta finds herself thick in the realities of war. She sees service at The Second Battle of Manassas /Bull Run and Antietam. When not in battle, she spends time tending the wounded. However, the real story is not in her part in the battles or assisting the wounded, but in how she deals with the ramifications of combat and with the secrets she kept going into those battles and how husband and wife manage together in this wartime arrangement that tests their marriage.
McCabe wrote a superbly descriptive novel. Besides the first person narration, she used excellent descriptions to bring locations and characters and their actions alive. She also gave a great deal of thought to Rosetta’s impressions and feelings which are the heart of this book. As we read, we gain an understanding to why Rosetta made her choices and how she sees military life. Often, her thoughts turn towards her husband and fears of what may happen or to their dreams of a farm and family after the war. McCabe also used phonetics and dialect to make the novel more realistic. Not only is the dialogue presented in a dialect best described as old-timey uneducated, with a bit of a Southern influence, but so are Rosetta’s thoughts. As the afterward mentions, McCabe drew on written accounts of real women who enlisted as men during the Civil War and used what she read to influence the creation of Rosetta’s character. Overall, I think McCabe did an overall excellent job in her debut novel.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.