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The Barnes & Noble Review
Meet John Trow, Thomas Dyja's second novel after the Civil War historical Play for a Kingdom, is proof that a skilled writer can make any topic interesting. Its subject matter -- the world of Civil War reenactors -- seems like fodder for satire and little else. Yet Dyja uses this arcane subculture, populated mostly by middle-aged men who dress up in Union or Confederate uniforms to stage encores of famous 19th-century bloodbaths, to weave a surprisingly effective postmodern ghost story.
The novel's namesake is a long-dead Connecticut private whom the protagonist, Steven Armour, is assigned to portray. Armour, drawn to reenacting on a whim, is one of postmillennial fiction's favorite stock characters: a 40-year-old paper pusher in the throes of a midlife crisis. Soon the spirit of John Trow hijacks his tepid life, lending him the fortitude to both climb the corporate ladder and become a pillar of strength for his family. But the ghost exacts a price. It pushes Armour into a dalliance with the wife of his ersatz regimental commander, then tries to force him to commit murder. Not surprisingly, gunplay settles the issue during a massive, climactic reenactment of the battle of Cold Harbor.
Just like its main (living) character, Dyja's book becomes more surefooted as it goes along, slowly morphing from depressing domestic drama into supernatural mystery. While the characters may be less finely drawn than those in Play for a Kingdom -- the story of a group of Confederate and Union soldiers who meet for an unlikely series of baseball games while the battle of Spotsylvania rages around them -- Dyja manages to weave a haunting and dramatic tale out of some decidedly undramatic elements. (Sam Stall)