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Andrew Lytle: The Long Night

Lytle’s first novel is based on a true story, recounted to him by Frank Owsley, and involving Owsley’s Uncle Dink, who had killed a number of men responsible for his father’s death. The novel starts with the narrator telling how his uncle Pleasant McIvor asks him to stop over and see him on his way home. The narrator had heard of his uncle Pleasant – his father’s brother – but, like most of the family, assumed that he had died a violent death, possibly in Mexico, after the Civil War. When he gets there, Pleasant tells him a story of murder and revenge. Cameron McIvor, Pleasant’s father, had fought and killed a man. The subsequent court case cost him most of his assets so, as was traditional, he left Georgia to seek his fortune in Texas. On his way, he was offered the job of plantation manager in Alabama, which he accepted. When he learns that his boss, Mr. Lovell, is stealing horses and slaves, he reports this to the authorities. Unfortunately the authorities are in cahoots with Lovell, and Cameron is murdered. Pleasant, who is only sixteen at the time, vows to get his revenge on all forty men who were party to his father’s death but his older brother, William, orders him to let law and order take its course. Pleasant disobeys his brother. Pleasant is driven away from the community – into the long night – and we follow his life, hiding out in the forest. Only when the Civil War comes, is he able to escape from his hiding and he enlists in the Confederate Army. Seeing the death of his fellow men and talking to one of his comrades, Pleasant finally realises that there is something more important than his revenge and passes up the opportunity to kill one of the men responsible for his father’s death. But, despite his best efforts, he realises that he cannot escape the curse of revenge, particularly when his friend dies in battle, partially because of him.

Lytle tells a good tale, even if it is, at times, a bit firstnovelish. The sense of honour and tradition is strong but Lytle also shows the changing mores of the South, with brother William eager to pursue matters through legal channels, rather than rush into a family feud. But, as Civil War novels, this is one of the best.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Bobbs-Merrill