Varina: A Novel

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V, the title character of Charles Frazier’s most recent novel, Varina, is a complex woman. When she marries Jefferson Davis it is with little knowledge that she will one day be the first lady of a new nation, the Confederate States of America, but she is aware that he is a way out of the life of the financially strapped plantation on which she has lived with her father through her late teens. What becomes of her and Jeff, as she calls him, of their children, and of the South is a sweeping tale that Frazier tells through small scenes, vignettes delineated by time and date at the start of each chapter.

The outer frame of the novel begins with an aged Varina in a lodging that is somewhere between hotel and hospital. When the young man interviewing her, James—a child she knew when she was younger, now a man come to her for answers—asks about a scream he thinks he heard on a prior visit, she remarks, “To live is to rant.” This witty, wry delivery is prevalent as Frazier brings V to life, though the story is a bit choppier than would best serve a character so rich with experience and internal monologue.

The intersection of politics, both federal and personal, plays out beautifully as Davis rises to prominence and his marriage to V is jeopardized in countless ways, not least of which is the women on the side. Fans of Frazier’s other work, particularly Cold Mountain, may be surprised by the occasional and odd allusion (as when V is to marry Jeff and she’s described as “naïve as Candide”), but overall the book is an enjoyable, historical piece of fiction focusing on the life of an extraordinary woman, subject matter Frazier continues to address well.


Reviewed By:

Author Charles Frazier
Star Count 4.5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 368 pages
Publisher Ecco
Publish Date 2018-Apr-03
ISBN 9780062405982
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue April 2018
Category Historical Fiction
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