In the last year, I have been on a bit of a Civil War kick. Maybe it's normal and I just wasn't aware, but it seems that there have been lots of historical fiction novels published recently about the Civil War. When I read several pre-publication reviews of Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson, I knew I had find a copy.
While perusing the authors' website, I saw that they were coming to my own town (north of Dallas, Texas) to do a book signing. I had never attended a book signing, so I was a little nervous about going by myself, so I convinced Trish to come too. We both didn't really know what to expect, and neither one of us had read the book, so we didn't really have a list of questions to ask. We were the first to arrive, and stood awkwardly in front of the authors for a few minutes. They seemed just as uncomfortable as we were, as this is their first book, and they hadn't done very many events. After we started talking, the tension and awkardness eased a bit, and it was very interesting to hear about how the two collaborated to write their book. Mark Grisham (brother to John Grisham) has always had a keen interest in the Civil War and has a history degree, and David Donaldson has a PhD and is a marriage and family counselor. Besides their differing scholastic backgrounds, the two also have very different writing styles. Mr. Grisham wrote about the soldiers and the battle scenes while Mr. Donaldson wrote about the insane asylum and the treatment for the patients. They both were true Southern gentlemen with their warm Mississippi accents and their willingness to answer our questions.
Bedlam South is unique in more than the just the method in which it was written. The central character, Dr. Joseph Bryarly, is not a soldier but a psychologist with a secret. From early on in the story, it is obvious he is trying to run from his past by focusing on giving his patients his best care. However, the asylums during the mid 1800s were terrible, and the patients were basically used for horrible experiments. Though Dr. Bryarly tries to help, he has little freedom to practice his own methods because the man in charge is an evil man who enjoys inflicting pain.
Zeke and Billy Gibson are two brothers fighting for the Confederacy. Billy is an officer and is a battle-hardened soldier, while Zeke is "fresh from the farm" and eager to fight. They are separated during the terrible battle of Fredricksburg and neither knows if the other survived.
These are just three of the many characters in Bedlam South. Though they all have their own stories, they share the same struggle to survive the war and protect those they love. Though Grisham and Donaldson have great characters with intriguing storylines, there are almost too many in the 320 pages. It seems as if none of the characters truly were developed to their potential. An exmple is Mary Beth Greene, who is a prostitute, yet still a lady. I would have liked to have gotten to know her story better instead of just a few bits and pieces here and there. The writing can be a bit rudimentary at times and a little heavy on the cliches. However, I did enjoy the book, and I felt sorrow and joy right along with the characters. I believe Grisham and Donaldson are working on another book, and I will definitely be interested in reading it.
Date Completed: February 2009
Number of pages: 322