Heaven and Hell

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the war’s aftermath, the South and its institutions are in shambles, its leaders exiled or imprisoned. Disillusioned veterans prove fertile ground for the exhortations of the nascent Ku Klux Klan. The freed blacks, unsure of freedom and unprepared, are easily exploited and manipulated. The state governments set up during Reconstruction are widely resented by most whites. Within this context, the Main family is itself in disarray. With Orry dead, his widow Madeline struggles to rebuild their plantation and her dreams. Cooper Main, embittered by defeat, finds purpose by joining the night riders, while Charles, psychologically, physically, and emotionally scarred, heads West.

The war has also left its mark on the Hazards. George, prosperous and becoming more so, mourns the loss of his great friend Orry and dreads the results of the political turmoil in the North. Brother Stanley, a war profiteer, conspires to plunder the South through shady business and political schemes.

In John Jakes’s hands, these situations and characters make for a rousing good story. A master of the genre, Jakes interweaves his characters’ actions with exhaustively researched actual events, and in the process not only manages to entertain but also succeeds in illuminating a fascinating period of American history. Imbued with the breadth and scope of the previous two novels, HEAVEN AND HELL provides a fitting and compelling climax to his monumental trilogy.