Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Confederates in the Attic (copy)

Was it possible to fall asleep in 1997 and arise in 1865? Tony Horwitz stood frozen in awe by his second-story bedroom window. Rubbing the sleep away from his eyes, the dream persisted. Below, on his manicured Virginia lawn, Rebel forces seemed to be winning as the Yankees backed away from the sea of gray. Then, without the slightest warning, the spell was broken by a brash director yelling “Cut!”

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, is the result of this early morning invasion. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1995, Horwitz moved to Waterford, Virginia, to focus on an unrelated book project. It was this spontaneous Civil War scene in his front yard that awakened distant boyhood dreams.

As a child, Horwitz delighted in spending time with his Poppa Isaac and the book of Civil War sketches. The obsession continued to grow as little Tony listened to his father read every night from a ten-volume set The Photographic History of the Civil War.

Horwitz writes, “For me, the fantastical creatures of Maurice Sendak [Where the Wild Things Are] held little magic compared to the man-boys of Mathew Brady who stared back across the century separating their lives from mine.”

Out amongst the morning revelers that day laid another man who grew up dreaming in blue and gray. Robert Lee Hodge, a waiter during peacetime, displayed a rare talent for rolling over and playing dead. Literally, Hodge was being paid by the movie company to do the “bloat,” a maneuver he learned through studying Mathew Brady’s famous Civil War photographs depicting death from battle aftermaths.

Horwitz recalls, “Hodge clutched his stomach and crumpled to the ground. His belly swelled grotesquely, his hands curled, his cheeks puffed out, his mouth contorted in a rictus of pain and astonishment. It was a flawless counterfeit of the bloated corpses photographed at Antietam and Gettysburg that I so often stared at as a child.”

It is the friendship between Horwitz and Hodge that provides comic relief throughout Confederates in the Attic. Readers will find the humor sustains their disbelief during the racism encountered as an uncivil war between black and white emerges.