Spine Study :: Enemy Women

I had this goal, awhile back, to read more books set in Missouri, especially local areas. All in all, Missouri is a state rich with history – a popular travel and trade hub throughout the development of the United States, beautiful landscapes marred by scars from the Civil War, and a culture much its own.

I came across Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles by chance on Thriftbooks. Set in southeastern Missouri during the Civil War, the narrative follows young Adair Colley and her later imprisonment, where she meets Union Major William Neumann. The synopsis from Goodreads states:

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped “enemy woman,” Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise…seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory.

Romance takes a backseat in this one, I want to clarify that first. Enemy Women is, at its heart, all consuming history. Each chapter begins with nonfiction material from both Union and Confederate letters/correspondence/newspapers and this gives the book a feel that borders on…raw. Very stark. Sometimes brutal.

I (apparently historically sheltered) was unaware how many women were thrown into prison in Missouri during the war, thought to be aiding southern soldiers, Bushwackers, and/or guerrillas. After reading Enemy Women, I’ve continued to read up on the subject and am ultimately grateful to Jiles for stirring up the buzz of an excited interest in me. Missouri was a conflicted land – flooding to the brim with contention and strife – literally, brothers fighting brothers.

Second, there is no punctuation surrounding dialogue = no quotation marks. All speech flows directly into the text. (Took me a bit to get used to but once I did, it all started to read easier.) For me, this style grew to be a wonderful, contradictory note: all this history with a contemporary edge.

Third, it is dual view point. The reader experiences the story through both Adair’s POV and William’s. I tend to stay away from multiple points-of-view but, in this case, it added an extra layer of “decadence.” Adair’s southern wildness + the Major’s northern gentleness. Somewhere in the mix, the reader begins to grasp Adair’s hidden soft-side and (in another part of the country) watch Neumann become somewhat savage and dangerous.

I’ll stay away from spoilers and add one final note:

Personally, I found this story driven by Adair’s love for her equine half. There is plenty of conflict and character growth due to suffering, don’t get me wrong. But I tracked Adair’s transition from child to woman by what she experienced alongside her horses.

My favorite quote of the book is pictured above, where Adair describes the horses returning to her after a night of grazing/resting with the: “strange and painful air of fallen angels.”

There was one particular part that stole my breath (again, no spoiler) but it included the horses. I felt the fear Adair felt. And it was written so damn well.

Final Spine Study :: That dance of goosebumps you get when you think of all the suffering and rebuilding a certain piece of ground has seen through the years.


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