A Soldier's Joy

Overview

Two Southern soldiers, recently back from Vietnam, struggle to resume their lives amid dangerous and deep-rooted prejudice
 
Thomas Laidlaw returns home from Vietnam with nothing much in mind but to tend his acreage, live apart, and get lost in the roots music he grew up with. Laidlaw’s childhood friend Rodney Redmon is doubly burdened: Not only is he scarred from the war, he is also a black man living in a prejudiced area of Tennessee. ...

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Soldier's Joy

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Overview

Two Southern soldiers, recently back from Vietnam, struggle to resume their lives amid dangerous and deep-rooted prejudice
 
Thomas Laidlaw returns home from Vietnam with nothing much in mind but to tend his acreage, live apart, and get lost in the roots music he grew up with. Laidlaw’s childhood friend Rodney Redmon is doubly burdened: Not only is he scarred from the war, he is also a black man living in a prejudiced area of Tennessee. Redmon’s homecoming from the war included time in jail—the result of his being framed for real estate fraud by racist forces within the local establishment. Once released, he and Laidlaw rekindle their friendship and both veterans try to put the war behind them. But when a group of local Klansman emerges, the violence that haunts them may prove impossible to escape.
 
Masterful in its execution and stunning in its emotional resonance, Soldier’s Joy is a riveting portrait of two damaged souls struggling to achieve solace despite the demons of their past.

A man returns home from Vietnam to his now abandoned family homestead outside of Nashville, suffering from a serious psychological wound incurred in combat. He meets up with a childhood friend who is black, and together they battle against a platoon of Klansmen for the literal salvation of a local preacher.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bell's impressive talents as a writer, which include endowing settings (here the landscape of rural Tennessee) with the significance of character, and a patient, compassionate probing of injured souls, are on full display in this uneven but intriguing story of a young Vietnam veteran's slow, brave resumption of civilian life. Thomas Laidlaw lives alone on his family land; he raises sheep, grows hay and vegetables, roams the countryside at night and practices his banjo. (The title is the name of a song as well as reference to a questionable legacy of the Vietnam war; as in his Zero db and Other Stories , the author's absorption with music enriches his prose). Gradually Laidlaw reestablishes his friendship with Rodney Redmon, a black man he'd grown up with and with whom he'd spent time in Vietnam. Also gradually--the operative word for most of the book, where details accumulate with the authority of a natural process--Laidlaw puts together a band, including the fiddler Adrienne, whose lover he becomes, and they begin to play at local bars. At the end, when Laidlaw, Redmon and a third reclusive vet are involved in a shoot-out with a cadre of Klansmen who attack a popular evangelist, the story disintegrates in an unexpected, if powerful, finale. For all its lack of balance, this novel's rewards far outweigh its flaws. (June)
Library Journal
Though in no way a typical ``Vietnam novel,'' this major work by critically respected Bell concerns the postwar lives of two veterans from rural Tennessee. The two men are introduced separately, as Laidlaw (a white) returns to his dead father's land and teaches himself to play the banjo, while Redmon (a black) leaves jail (he'd been set up), works in a warehouse, and hangs out at a Muslim restaurant. When they meet up, these boyhood companions resume an uneasy friendship until local racial tension forces them to draw on their military training in a dramatic finale. With its well-developed characters and well-maintained tension for such a long story, this important, insightful novel belongs in most libraries.-- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
David Bradley
what Mr. Bell does far better than almost all contempo-rary writers is to capture nuances - slight movements of body, statements begun and never finished, silence itself. His genius - and it's a word one must use - is for an old-fashioned rendering of lush but significant details that here create a tale of rich religious and political symbolism infused with a compelling, rewarding sense of place. In a world where jangling minimalism and the staccato of action and injury are excessively rewarded, Madison Smartt Bell has had the craftsmanship, courage and artistic integrity to search for something less fashionable, for the legato of contemplation, the andante of healing. -- New York Times
From the Publisher
“A big, riveting novel. Bell is a maestro both of style and story.” —Walker Percy, author of The Moviegoer
 
“One of our most courageous and large-souled talents.” —Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140133592
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/1990
  • Series: Contemporary American Fiction
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Madison Smartt  Bell

Madison Smartt Bell (b. 1957) is a critically acclaimed novelist. Over the last two decades he has produced more than a dozen novels and story collections, as well as numerous essays and reviews. His books have been finalists for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award among other honors. Born and raised outside of Nashville, Bell’s fiction is often set in the South, or in New York where he lived as a young writer. Bell and his wife, poet Elizabeth Spires, currently live in Baltimore, Maryland, where they are the codirectors of the writing program at Goucher College.

Biography

Best known for an acclaimed trilogy of novels which chart the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803 (All Souls Rising; Master of the Crossroads; and The Stone That The Builder Refused), Madison Smartt Bell was born and raised in Nashville, TN, and educated at Princeton University and Hollins College. In addition to fiction that ranges from historical novels to short stories to dark psychological thrillers, he has written biographies (one of pioneering chemist Antoine Lavoisier and another of Haitian leader Toussaint L'Ouverture) and Charm City, an idiosyncratic guided tour of Baltimore, where he lives with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Johns Hopkins University and currently directs the Creative Writing program at Goucher College. In 1996, Bell was chosen by the British literary magazine Granta as one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists. He is also an accomplished songwriter and musician.

Good To Know

"Two of my longterm pastimes are martial arts and music. I think this item of fact should make the characters I've written who practice both more plausible. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for 20 years until my knees stopped cooperating. Since then I've been doing Tae Chi -- great for concentration, meditation, clearing the head and restoring the energy, as well as being easier on the joints for anyone over 40. I've played various fretted instruments since I was 11, most recently electric guitar. Anything Goes, my most recent book, is a novel about a year in the live of a traveling cover band. It features a few original tunes cowritten by me and Wyn Cooper."

"Since 1996 I've been importing a few paintings from the Cap Haitien area of Haiti, as a benefit for painters there who suffer from the sharp decline of tourism. and some of these paintings can be seen at http://faculty.goucher.edu/mbell/painting.htm."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nashville, Tennessee
    1. Education:
      A.B. in English, Princeton University, 1979; M.A. in English and creative writing, Hollins College, 1981
    2. Website:

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