With a plot that tears through the Carolina underbrush like a spooked rabbit, Morgan’s novel of the American Revolution traces the gender-switching drama of Josie Summers, a pioneer girl reared in the same hardscrabble landscape of his 1999 best-seller, ”Gap Creek.” At 16, Josie flees unspeakable violence at home, disguises herself as a boy, and falls for an itinerant preacher before joining a militia bound for the fateful battle of Cowpens. Her journey reads like a dictionary of depredation, with entries on ax murder, child abuse, cruelty to animals, forest fire, hanging, incest, the lash, panther attack, rape, and tarring and feathering — to say nothing of bloodbath on the battlefield. During rare moments of peace, Morgan’s efforts at down-home lyricism often disappoint: ”Music was like a cool drink of water on a hot day. The music was warm as a fire on a cold day.” Reaching for the poetic, he unearths platitudes.
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