Neverhome is a war story without a battle. Ash is a soldier, and she kills without hesitation. Yet, the story is not about her battlefield experiences. Rather, it is her entire wartime experience, from her first steps away from the homestead until well after she returns home and settles back into civilian life. Yes, there are some battlefield scenes, but the battle itself is anonymous and comes to symbolize all of the major battles during the war. Ash’s location throughout the South and East purposefully remains indistinct, so that readers focus on the story and cannot let previous knowledge distract them. It is a clever method of removing the importance of the Civil War itself and narrowing the core of the story to one woman and her demons.
Ash is a conundrum throughout the story and never fails to surprise readers long after they think they understand her. She is strong, capable, independent, rough, and yet there is a fragility underneath her tough exterior which tends to expose itself at the most unexpected times. That she leaves her husband to fight in the war is not a surprise since it is the premise of the novel. What is a surprise is just how much she loves her husband. For, implicit in her actions is the idea that she is running away from an untenable situation. Such is not the case. She is running, but she is ultimately running from herself rather than her husband.
Readers only see Ash’s husband through her memories and via his letters. The picture that forms is a man who feels deeply and is better suited for modernity rather than the rough ways of the 1860s. He is quiet, intense, and physically weak, but he loves Ash, and she loves him. Theirs is a beautiful story of mutual adoration and genuine partnership. They fill out each other’s weaknesses perfectly. What readers see is simple and poignant.
Their obvious love for each other raises many a question about why Ash leaves and remains away from home for so long. This is the crux of the story, something discovered piece by piece through reflection. Much of Ash’s story remains clouded and out of context, requiring inference on the part of the reader to fill in the many gaps left by Ash’s broken memories. What follows is a moving story of love, loss, anger , betrayal, and the long road to forgiveness Ash must undertake before she can go home.
Neverhome is a beautifully written story. Each sentence is pregnant with emotion as well as the potential for jaw-dropping revelations. Ash’s story from campsite to battlefield, from home to home, and everything that occurs in-between is fascinating in its tale of life as a soldier, let alone life as a female pretending to be a man. When Ash sets out from Indiana to join the war, she knows she is setting out on a journey. That it is not the journey she expects is to a reader’s benefit as they get to know this remarkable woman during her battle for her very soul.