2001 Michael Shaara Award for Best Civil War Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
A powerful yet intimate novel of the Civil War on the home and battle fronts, The Wolf Pit
offers a gripping portrait of two young Virginians forever altered by the violence and. uncertainty of national unrest.
Robin, a young Confederate soldier, battles from a valley of blood to a burning wilderness to labyrinthine trenches. He clings despite the slaughter of friends and the shattering of illusions to what gives him strength, to the beautiful and the uncanny: psalms, pictures of loved ones, and an old tale about a pair of mysterious, green-hued children found in a wolf pit. These he carries with him inside the very palisades of hell, the Elmira prison camp.
Agate, the daughter of a hired-out slave, embraces the forbidden teachings of her mistress, Miss Fanny. But the images she has fashioned for herself shatter when she deeply offends her owner, Young Master, who carries out a swift and cruel punishment. At the Williams Home Place, Agate learns the meaning of her mother's cautionary tales as she struggles to survive loss and degradation and to pit knowledge and truth against evil.
By turns eloquent and harrowing, The Wolf Pit explores the will to endure in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and the personal toils exacted during this chaotic period in U.S. history.
"Marly Youmans, author of the powerful novel
Catherwood, has just produced a brilliant new novel
called The Wolf Pit in which two characters who never
meet play out their lives against the violence and
sundering of the war between our states. The Wolf Pit
is so completely envisioned, so nearly tactile in its
detail, so near to what the thing itself must have
been like, that it appears to have sprung, full-blown,
from the authors brow....The best scenes in the book are possibly the worst:
the remarkable battle scenes, the slavemasters
cruelty, a pair of wolves trapped in a
pit. But the whole book is remarkable for its
backsight and its controlled and terrible emotion. The
Wolf Pit will rest easily on the shelf beside other
great Civil War novels. Its by Marly Youmans and
published by Farrar Straus & Giroux." Erica Eisdorfer, WUNC Public Radio, Chapel Hill, NC
"The novel's many dramatic and traumatic events will keep the reader breathless, while the haunting lyrical language and the fierce intelligence behind it reminds us we are reading a writer and storyteller of the first order." Publishers Weekly
"This book shouldnt work. Its all wrong. It
starts near the end, jumps to the middle and
works its way back to the end again. Its told
in several voices, much of it in past tense. Its a
period piece, set during the Civil War, yet it
also contains a book within a book, a fantasy
story about two green children.
But it does work, and work well, because Youmans is a sound writer and
plotter who can find the lyric in everyday observations and track the thread of
the mystic in the lives of her characters.
Youmans makes her language sing. She is as adept at capturing the horror and
carnage of war as the quiet and solemn beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in
early autumn. Her two main characters, Robin and Agate, take over the tale
early and stake out territory in the readers heart. Their voices are as real and
immediate as a family members.
Youmans is not afraid to use her characters to make a point, to show how
awful slavery really was, how dehumanizing war can be and how devastating
the loss of a loved one is. The book is filled with symbols, not the least of
which are the green children and the wolf pit, representing the eternal mystery
of self identity and the harsh reality of physical existence. Despite the terrible
things they endure, Youmans characters retain a rich spiritual life, a mystic
connection with the past and future that sustains them.
The Wolf Pit can be read on many levels. It is a layered story full of subplots
and subtle meanings. More than a war tale, more than a historical novel,
Youmans book is a morality tale with a timeless relevance. Greg Langley, the Advocate Online
About the Author
recently moved from the Carolinas to Cooperstown, New York, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her previous books are Catherwood
(FSG, 1996) and Little Jordon