Spoiler alert! Sam dies! Are you peace-centered? Have you opted out of war? Have you taken a stand against systemic hatred? Then you will find kindred spirits in the authors of what is possibly the most dismal and depressing novel ever to rise up in defiance of organized violence.
Was the American nation founded upon a tragic flaw that foreboded a history of pain and suffering? Have those who rebelled against the imposition of unjust taxes sown a crop of hatred and reaped a harvest of sorrow?
14-year-old Tim Meeker has a brother who brings ruination to his family after falling into the pit of sedition that is Yale.
“Sam was a triumphant sort of person. He always had some victories to tell about whenever he came home from college. Mostly they were in debates where he scored a ‘telling point’ over his enemy, or whatever you call them. He would say, ‘And then I scored a telling point, Tim.’ He’d explain what the telling point was, which I never understood. And then he’d say ‘Tim, it was a great triumph.”
Sam goes on to steal a musket from his Loyalist pacifist father and joins the 2nd Company Governor’s Foot Guard commanded by Benedict Arnold (and that can’t be good). He then goes on to fight with courage and distinction in several battles.
As the years drag on, the Meeker family is burdened by the economic hardship brought on by war. The father is captured by “brigands” (and something really bad results), then his mother falls into depression (leading to something even worse), and finally Sam dies under highly ironic circumstances.
We can ignore the fact that the Meeker tavern and general store would have prospered during the economic boom generated by military expenditures. We can pretend that the British in New York did not have dozens of Loyalist informers in Connecticut who could have inquired into the reputation of the father. We can assume that, when they needed to make an example of a lawbreaker, generals would never have chosen a man well known for honesty, patriotism, and courage. We can do all this, because the Collier brothers tell their story so well that we will only reflect on its historical implausibility after drying our bitter tears. A Continental officer sums up the theme of the book when he says:
“War is hard, boy. Sometimes we do a lot of things we don’t want to do. A lot of very good men have been killed in this war, and all we can do is hope that it’s been worth it. Maybe it hasn’t. Maybe in the end we’ll conclude that. But I don’t think so. I think it will be worth it, despite the death and destruction.”
Tim Meeker spends much of the book in profound and eloquent rumination. Should he sympathize with Sam and the Cause of Freedom, or with his father and the Cause of Monarchy? He has to consider the woeful words of his mother who says:
“You’re going to get yourself killed. Well you might as well. Let’s have it all done with at once. How does the old line go? ‘Men must fight and women must weep.’ But you’ll get no more tears from me. I’ve done my weeping for this war.”
With maturity and intelligence beyond his years, Tim carefully considers the morality of the two sides of the conflict: liberty versus stability. Will he reject the impetuousness of his brother, or the conservatism of his father? Will he learn to appreciate the wisdom of the Collier brothers’ New York City liberal heritage? In the end, after Tim is traumatized by yet another act of senseless violence, a final decision is forced upon him.
Not part of a series.
Moderate violence. No disturbing content. P.C.
Available in audiobook format.
James Lincoln Collier on Wikipedia. (click here)