Editorial Review: Death of Innocence by Richard Greene
This fictionalized account of the author’s ancestors takes readers on a historical adventure through nineteenth-century America.
In Richard Greene’s Death Of Innocence, the author follows lightly fictionalized accounts of his ancestors’ lives, moving through different cities and different times. Their emotional and private lives have been embellished, of course, but their major life events are family history and the wider historical events are accurate.
Instead of a typical conflict-resolution arc, readers are led through the lives of the men and women who eventually became the author’s great-great-parents. As a young man without a lot of prospects, one great-grandfather worked on a riverboat and tried to prove his suitability for a beautiful young woman. Her brother, the author’s great-uncle, had an impressive career in the Confederate Army, seeing combat many times and distinguishing himself. The author’s great-great-grandfather also served in the southern military, surviving dangerous encounters, while the girl who will become his great-great-grandmother anxiously waited for news and hoped for his safe return. Themes of courage and determination recur again and again in the storylines, showing family traits in the military and in daily life. This makes for an interesting look at the past.
Strong historical research deepens the narrative, and the author has paid careful attention to the details of everyday life in a different era. The military sections are particularly well-researched, including historical battles, careful accounts of equipment and maneuvers, and fictionalized interpretations of how officers and enlisted men might have spoken to each other. Themes of courage and determination recur again and again in the storylines, showing family traits in the military and in daily life. Although the narrative moves between characters and between battles, there is a heavy sense of loss in most of the battles. As the story progresses, tension builds because readers can’t help rooting for the characters’ success and worrying about their safety, even though we know how the battles will turn out.
There’s also a compelling sense of fate throughout this book because these ancestors must manage to be smart or occasionally lucky enough to survive the war, in order to marry and have the children who ultimately led to the author’s birth. (One of the storylines focuses on a great-uncle, not a direct genetic ancestor, but that’s still part of the family story.) This gives a heightened sense of destiny and importance to the relationships between soldiers and the women they’ll later marry, especially in the first meetings or in seemingly minor decisions that ripple outwards.
Death of Innocence is an engaging family saga. The sense of destiny and family connection leading up the present-day gives extra intensity to everyday moments.