High Hearts

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Rita Mae Brown’s fans have long been treated to idiosyncratic characters who alternatively amuse and outrage the reader. Brown is gifted with the ability to make her characters, through a slight turn of phrase or action, come alive. While that gift is still burning in HIGH HEARTS, the flame is low.

Geneva Chatfield, the tallest girl and best rider in Albermarle County and a bride of only five days when the Civil War begins, impersonates a young man in order to join her husband’s calvary regiment. While Geneva thrives on the hard life of a soldier, her husband, Nash, is repulsed by it, and their different philosophies soon create problems for the newlyweds. To exacerbate the situation, Mars Vickers, the handsome and winning calvary commander, takes a shine to Geneva, though he cannot understand his unusual attraction for this “boy.” Rivalries flare between Nash and Mars, while the real identity of Geneva remains a secret.

Concurrently, the responsibility of running the plantation falls on the seemingly frail shoulders of Geneva’s mother, Lutie, whose main pleasure in life consists of lengthy conversations with an imaginary lover. In struggling through the realities of war on the home front and nursing the often-grotesquely wounded, Lutie discovers an inner strength and peace.

Because this book is billed as a “grand, sweeping novel,” one assumes that Brown would like HIGH HEARTS to be a kind of feminist GONE WITH THE WIND. Unfortunately, her story is not as gripping as Margaret Mitchell’s. Fans who expect the delightful characters of SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT or the brash heroine of RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE will be disappointed. However, those readers who want a book for easy reading pleasure will enjoy Brown’s wit and her ability to bring her love of the South and its people to life.