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Madison Smartt Bell: Soldier’s Joy

Thomas Laidlaw has just come back from service in Vietnam. Now he wants to improve his banjo-playing technique, staying at his family’s abandoned farm. Above all, he wants to be alone. He has some back pay and some disability pay, as he had injured his foot in Vietnam, so he doesn’t need to work right away. But the solitude soon goes. Mr. Giles, a neighbouring farmer, shows up and offers to help him. Giles is a decent man but his sons aren’t, as they belong to the Ku Klux Klan. Laidlaw also meets Adrienne Wells, whom he recruits for his bluegrass band and also for his love interest, but, more importantly, he meets Rodney Redmon, who is black. His warm greeting to Redmon does not go down too well with the KKK mob and when Brother Jacob, a black preacher who preaches interracial love, decides to come to town and Laidlaw’s bluegrass band plans to play at his meeting, the KKK get really upset. Bell says one of the reasons for writing this novel was put to the rest the idea that the Klan represented him and other White Southerners and that he does that fairly emphatically. Of course, as is typical of Bell, it is ugly and violent but the good always win. It is not very subtle and very Bell but, as always, well told and fast-paced.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Ticknor & Fields