Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
Release date: Tuesday, August 26th
Sweetsmoke is a novel told through the eyes of a slave in Virginia, during the Civil War. Cassius is, luckily for him, different from other slaves. As the plantation carpenter, he doesn’t have to work in the field under the slave driver; neither does he work in the ‘big house’ under the watchful eye of his master. Cassius is relatively free, as slaves go – he is also very intelligent, which is a tremendous help to him when he finds a friend murdered and sets out to avenge her death.
Clearly, when I saw this book listed on the LibraryThing Early Reviewers page I thought it looked interesting. Then I was chosen to read and review it, and that’s what I started getting nervous. A slave travels around the upper South during the Civil War to avenge the death of a friend, a free black woman? It sounded as if it might be ridiculous, or just plain stupid. I believe that I was getting cold feet due to the fiasco that was the last Civil War historical fiction book I reviewed. I thought that one looked interesting too. How wrong I was.
In this case, however, my first instinct was correct. This book was simply fabulous. Cassius was a strong and expressive character. Actually, he was the master of hiding his thoughts and feelings to his masters, but David Fuller wrote him in a way that made his very being shine through the pages. Never once did I feel that I was reading about a fictional character, I felt more that I was following Cassius on his quest.
One of the most interesting choices that Fuller made in this book was a stylistic choice. Whenever a slave was speaking, Fuller left out the quotation marks. He did not omit quotation marks throughout the book, when white men and women, and even free blacks spoke they were granted quotation marks, but not the words of slaves. I was sure this was going to annoy me, and yet it did not. In fact, it helped me feel even more the dehumanizing effects of slavery. I wondered sometimes if the white men and women were really hearing Cassius when he spoke, with the inequities of the quotation marks.
“Sweetsmoke” by David Fuller is, simply, a remarkable example of historical fiction and a moving story of a slave during the Civil War, with all of the upheaval that brought. You should read this book.