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April 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Steve Wiegenstein reimagines life during the Civil War in his novel Slant of Light. Life in the Missouri Ozarks is what author Steve Wiegenstein knows best. As a fifth-generation eastern Missouri Ozarks native, Wiegenstein draws inspiration from the region’s history and geography to write this novel.
With thorough development of the characters and vivid description of their daily lives in the settlement, Slant of Light offers a new perspective on life during the Civil War.
Upon receiving land, James Turner starts his own community, Daybreak, in the Missouri Ozarks. Initially, this utopian social experiment seems like the ideal lifestyle, but the residents fall on hardship as they attempt to build a new life.
The novel begins with Turner traveling to start his new settlement, while his wife, Charlotte, is left at home. The stubborn woman she is, she follows her husband, but her father prefers that she be accompanied on her travels. Conveniently enough, at the beginning of the novel the reader is introduced to Adam Cabot, a man saved by Charlotte’s father from being tarred and feathered. The two set out toward Daybreak, and it becomes apparent that they have more than a friendly connection.
When the two reach Daybreak, they witness the strife of the members. As a group of clerks, students, factory workers and shopkeepers’ sons with no experience living like this, building a community is no easy task. From the details of Luke Wornall’s slow death by cholera to the first kiss between Charlotte and Adam, Wiegenstein takes readers on a journey of suffering, love and growth in a time of crisis.
As a work of historical fiction, the novel is successful in adding a personal touch to the events of the Civil War. Beyond the battles, the personal lives of the characters reveal the distress of this time. Turner, an intelligent and driven man, leads a group of people into this difficult and isolated lifestyle without the slightest knowledge of the outcome. Adam, a Harvard-educated abolitionist, sets aside his initial goals to end slavery to join the community. Charlotte, pregnant, follows her husband to Daybreak and ends up falling in love with Adam. The depth of the settlers’ lives takes the novel to a higher level than just the details of the war.
Because the settlers are so well-developed, the book’s main appeal is the drama and interaction among them. Charlotte and Adam’s relationship slowly grows, despite her marriage to James, while Adam struggles with an internal conflict of leaving the woman he loves to fight against slavery or staying behind with Charlotte.
Although the novel is set in the 1860s, readers can relate to these central plot lines. From the moment the characters are introduced, the book grabs readers’ attention and keeps it until the end.