An Uncivil War
By Cheryl Morgan
When you think about the music of The Doors I suspect that two things will come to mind. The first, of course, is Jim Morrisonís haunting voice. But the other will be that swirling, magical keyboard sound (think of "Light My Fire"). It is a sound that makes a Doors song instantly recognizable, and it was created by Ray Manzarek. Jim Morrison is very famously dead, but Manzarek is still very much alive, and writing.
So what should a reviewer feel when presented with a novel by Ray Manzarek? Some suspicion, obviously. But then Manzarek is hardly a celebrity these days. It isnít like Iím being offered a book (supposedly) written by Britney Spears. Indeed, if I wasnít so geriatric I probably wouldnít know who Manzarek was. As it is, I have Doors albums on my MP3 player, and still listen to them. But this isnít just any book; it is a book from Night Shade. Jeremy and Jason are not the sort of guys to publish a celebrity novel just for the publicity. These are people with taste, and it behooves me to trust them.
So to the book. Snake Moon starts as if it is going to be some sort of Californian pagan fantasy. There is stuff like this:
The night of the full moon in Taurus was different from the solstices, though. It was the night of secrets and sex. It was the night of special ripeness when Boone would drop his seeds into the soil and add the golden water to the seeds and the mystery of germination would begin. The mystery of life and creation. Only the earth knew how life was created and it was her secret. And it was called sex.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that what Manzarek is doing here is setting up an idyllic rural paradise for the precise purpose of contrasting it with the real world; a world which, in 1863, was deeply embroiled in bloody conflict. Boone Dillard and his family donít even know that there is a war going on, but they soon find out, and it isnít long before they too are embroiled in it. This is the point where they discover that wars, and civil wars especially, are anything but civil.
From here on in things get rather disturbing. The Dillards live in country Tennessee. They are, in theory, people of the South. Manzarek, thankfully, is not. But it is still hard for any American to write impartially about the Civil War, and it was a while before I became comfortable with what Manzarek was doing. Perhaps he intended that. Certainly he showed how easy it is for innocent country bumpkins to get carried away with the excitement and glamour of war. I think he just about got away with it, although I can see the more militant amongst persons of color being deeply unhappy with this book.
Then, all too soon, it is over. Snake Moon feels more like a novella than a novel. This, in part, is because it is based on a screenplay that Manzarek wrote with Rick Valentine. (Iím assuming that this is the same Rick Valentine who, with Manzarek, co-wrote the horror movie, Love Her Madly.) The plot isnít exactly complex, but the story does go somewhere and the ending is impressively powerful. You wouldnít be able to sell this book in a mass market fantasy or horror format, it is just too thin. But it is a book that it was well worth Night Shade publishing, and an enjoyable, if at times disturbing, read.