This beautiful story is told tranquilly but deeply. It is tinged with yearning for life, for peace, and for an unrecoverable past when peach trees bloomed in April and loved ones who were destined to march off and die in war were still happily alive. SO RED THE ROSE is a muted cry against war’s stupidity, a lament over the passing of an idyllic way of life. It is also a philosophy of life for the future. In his unhurried narration, moreover, Stark Young not only shows the rosy side of life in the antebellum South, the dreadful war years, and the malicious brutality of Reconstruction, but also, almost with touches of the Spanish “Costumbrista” movement, he archives “pictures of customs,” including details of dress, furniture, thought, imagery, psychology, and the way of life.
The novel’s essence is in its final scene, where Agnes sits meditating at her son’s grave in the Montrose family graveyard, with little Middleton at her side. Suddenly, she can feel the hard gravel under her feet at Shiloh, where she had sought Edward’s body three years earlier. Now she reflects, sitting by Edward’s grave (while little Middleton sits, staring at the foliage over the cemetery wall, where the sun’s rays are slanting), on how Edward had died at Shiloh, where ranks of half-trained men and boys had been cut down on each side, epitomizing war’s insanity and “the childish urges of men.” She now grasps the interrelationship of war to men,...
(The entire section is 479 words.)