Book Review: This Old World

A look at Columbia author Steve Wiegenstein's second book

This Old World

By: Steve Wiegenstein
Price: $14.95
Release date: Sept. 1, 2014

This Old World is Columbia author Steve Wiegenstein’s second novel. His first, Daybreak, is a work of historical fiction that follows a utopian community formed in the Missouri Ozarks on the eve of the Civil War.

This Old World begins when news of the war’s end reaches what remains of the community of Daybreak. The years of war have not treated its residents kindly. Many are dead or missing, and the women, children and old men who remain struggle to keep themselves and their ideals alive.

James Turner, Daybreak’s founder and de facto leader, has been away fighting. In his absence his wife, Charlotte, has taken charge of the community by guiding the group’s decisions and shepherding her people through raids, hunger and tribulation.

The war’s end should signal a new beginning, an opportunity to rebuild Daybreak and resume their grand experiment in collectivism and democracy.

But as the far-flung remnants of the community return home, it becomes clear that starting afresh is no simple matter.

James Turner survived the war but was irreparably damaged by the experience. Another man, Charley Pettibone, fought for the South and must now reconcile his conflicted loyalties.

And there are other castaways from the conflict who’ve washed up on Daybreak’s shores: a former slave named Dathan; an ambitious Irishman, Michael Flynn; and Francis Smith, a wealthy but grotesque Philadelphia woman in search of her dead son’s remains.

Steve Wiegenstein is a native of the Ozarks his new book comes out Sept. 1.

Steve Wiegenstein is a native of the Ozarks and a scholar of utopian movements. His new book comes out Sept. 1.

In This Old World, Wiegenstein displays a keen imagination, a deep knowledge of the Ozark’s geography and flora, and a firm grasp on the epoch’s events. Although the story of daybreak is of grim, unremitting hardships — floods, poison, domestic violence and vigilantism, to name a few — is it also a tale of perseverance and the transformative power of ideas.

In Wiegenstein’s new novel, the beliefs that have come to define America are still at play and still contested: equal rights for women and minorities, the rule of law, the role of religion, the consequences of lust, and the power and perils of capitalism and credit.

These forces are at work in the lives of Daybreak’s citizens, and the community serves as a tiny crucible in which the alloys of the modern world are tried, tested, and sometimes broken.