Set in Virginia during the Civil War and a century beyond, this novel by the award-winning author of The Yellow Birds explores the brutal legacy of violence and exploitation in American society.
Spanning over one hundred years, from the antebellum era to the 1980's, A Shout in the Ruins examines the fates of the inhabitants of Beauvais Plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia. When war arrives, the master of Beauvais, Anthony Levallios, foresees that dominion in a new America will be measured not in acres of tobacco under cultivation by his slaves, but in industry and capital.
A grievously wounded Confederate veteran loses his grip on a world he no longer understands, and his daughter finds herself married to Levallois, an arrangement that feels little better than imprisonment. And two people enslaved at Beauvais plantation, Nurse and Rawls, overcome impossible odds to be together, only to find that the promise of coming freedom may not be something they will live to see.
Seamlessly interwoven is the story of George Seldom, a man orphaned by the storm of the Civil War, looking back from the 1950s on the void where his childhood ought to have been. Watching the government destroy his neighborhood to build a stretch of interstate highway through Richmond, he travels south in an attempt to recover his true origins. With the help of a young woman named Lottie, he goes in search of the place he once called home, all the while reckoning with the more than 90 years he lived as witness to so much that changed during the 20th century, and so much that didn't.
As we then watch Lottie grapple with life's disappointments and joys in the 1980's, now in her own middle-age, the questions remain: How do we live in a world built on the suffering of others? And can love exist in a place where for 400 years violence has been the strongest form of intimacy? Written with the same emotional intensity, harrowing realism, and poetic precision that made The Yellow Birds one of the most celebrated novels of the past decade, A Shout in the Ruins cements Powers' place in the forefront of American letters and demands that we reckon with the moral weight of our troubling history.
This inconsistent follow-up to Powers's PEN/Hemingway Award winning The Yellow Birds traces the destructive legacy of slavery from the 19th century to the recent past. The first of the novel's two main story lines centers on the Beauvais Plantation, contrasting the loveless marriage of its white owners, the young Emily Reid and the volatile Antony Levallois, with the profound connection between two of their slaves, Rawls and Nurse. The affecting second story line, set in 1950s Richmond, Va., concerns 90-year-old George Seldom, the child born of Levallois raping Nurse. Powers strikes a fine balance between the two narratives; less successful, though, are the tangential investigations into the lives of a union officer overseeing Reconstruction, Tom Fitzgerald, and a diner waitress whom George befriends, Lottie Moore. These sections feel like unnecessary padding that softens the impact of the novel as a whole. Emily, Rawls, and Nurse eventually have their violent confrontation with Levallois and make their respective flights from Beauvais, but the resolutions that the book then offers are either too coincidental, cheaply tragic, or vague. The reader is left with a shout that enervates more than it inspires.