Historical Fiction can sometimes relegate women, non-white, and non-cis characters to minor (or stereotypical) roles because it’s ‘historically accurate’. “Good Time Coming”, by C.S. Harris, attempts to break that mold, but doesn’t have a strong enough plot to hold interest. During the majority of this novel I was waiting for events to happen. The narrator Amrie, a.k.a Anne-Marie, is a pre-teen morphing into teenage girl who remains at home while the men and boys go off to war. These women are the true story.
The spoiler opening-sentence seems only to function as a promise of things to come. The languid, detailed writing quickly immerses you in Louisiana during the Civil War, but almost drowns in the details. Bits pop out like bursts of color, only to fade back into the doldrums. There is too much environment and not enough plot. When action finally comes, instead of relishing in it, the pace picks up and it’s all over and done with.
The best moments – the moments when the pages really light up – are when Harris focuses on the divisiveness between The North and The South; how supposedly ‘good’ people treat their enemies and inferiors. The South argues the war is about government control and taxes, while the North holds a position of superiority regarding slavery – even as their soldiers destroy homes, farms, and assault women. In “Good Time Coming” a preacher hails slavery as the natural order ordained by God (quoting the bible to back up this argument); slave owners claim Africans and African-Americans are mentally inferior to Whites; and a male doctor argues that women are not competent, or strong enough, to be medical professionals or, in one instance, even schoolteachers.
These arguments are, in today’s modern light, preposterous; which is most likely why Harris chose to focus on them. The sometimes-clunky dialogue seems to pander to an audience that already agrees with the point. I wanted her to dive deeper instead of skimming over Lincoln’s faults and faulty handling of the War. But what would happen if you took today’s turmoil and moved it forward 150 years? Will it seem equally outdated? 2016 showed the American people (& the world) how divided our nation remains; and while this year’s political crisis was not wholly about slavery or skin color, there remain strong echoes of Civil War sentiments.
One of the biggest realizations Amrie, our narrator, arrives at is that life is not black and white when it comes to right and wrong. As the winners, the Federal Soldiers (the North) are historically viewed as the good guys – the right side. But Harris breaks down this notion by constantly reinforcing and reminding the reader of the mistakes, and sometimes evil acts, the North inflicted upon the South. War is brutal; while the men in the trenches witness the physical destruction – the blood and terror – those who remained at home witnessed an entirely different terror.
Amrie matures in an almost Anne Frank-like way. As the years slog on she grows physically, her sexuality emerges and, due the horrors of war she witnesses, she changes. She’s surrounded by characters of different shades, creating a diverse group that includes: slaves, freed slaves, Irish and German immigrants (viewed on a similarly low level), and Northern/Federal soldiers. Her opinions on these people evolve into three-dimensions; unfortunately, most of the revelations happen in final 20 pages, instead of being sprinkled throughout.
It’s refreshing to read a book that includes diverse female characters and ethnic diversity when it comes to the Civil War. But I wish there had been a stronger storyline to carry me through the book. There were pops of color, moments of interest, but mostly I felt bogged down by the slow-speed.
Bechdel Test: Passes with ease
The Last Word: Good in idea, but not in execution. Skip it.