Picks and Pans Review: Unto This Hour

updated 02/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Tom Wicker

In cinematic scenes with a cast of hundreds—from real-life generals Lee and Jackson to fictional, fear-haunted soldiers, from wealthy Virginia ladies to black slaves and dirt-poor farm women—this big historical novel is an account of the bloody battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run) on Aug. 29 and 30, 1862. The Northern army lost 14,000 men, and the great victory gave Lee the courage to press on into Maryland. Wicker, the New York Times political columnist and author of seven previous novels, gives his battle descriptions a melodramatic grandeur. His best characters are military men—their distrust, jealousies and fear of each other is tellingly conveyed. He is less successful with his overwrought women, who seem to have been inspired less by real females than by the works of Margaret Mitchell and other florid Southern writers. Another problem is the dialect the author gives to some of his characters ("Mought be back tomarr then. Iffen he got to go on off with at ol army"). In any case, this novel seems less literature than a glorification of the old South, not to mention of the Civil War itself. In a postscript, Wicker protests: "I'm not nostalgic for the 'old South' or romantic about a war that destroyed one nation and forged another.... The 'ordeal of the Union,' terrible as it was, is nevertheless the most dramatic and fascinating story I know." Sorry, Mr. Wicker. Only a Southerner who is caught up in an antique nostalgia for that awful time would consider spending years researching and writing this kind of anachronistic fiction. (Viking, $19.95)

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