A Novel Set in Gettysburg...

by Lisa McChristian
The Hearts of Soldiers

by Joan Vannorsdall Schroeder
New York, NY: DK Ink, 1999
Hardback, 311 pages, $24.95

     When you hear the word ‘Gettysburg,’ what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Division between father and son? Wounded soldiers? Death? Or tourist attraction?
       Joan Vannorsdall Schroeder uses all of these thoughts and impressions of the historic town to create a chilling background for her second novel, The Hearts of Soldiers.
       The story follows the lives of Allison and Cal, neighbors in Gettysburg. Allison, a social worker, is traumatized by the death of her younger daughter and disturbed by the lack of grief shown by her husband, a devout Lutheran minister. As their marriage disintegrates and their remaining daughter rebels, Allison is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Cal, a 62-year-old police chief, is stunned when his wife unexpectedly leaves him. Then he begins to receive disturbing phone calls from his long-lost son. Contemplating both retirement and suicide, Cal begins an affair with his long-time secretary.
       The turmoil in their lives is overshadowed by the burning of Gettysburg’s churches. The police suspect a reclusive Vietnam vet who thinks of one thing, Allison. Cal feels pressured to make an arrest, but he knows the man everyone thinks is guilty is actually innocent. With no evidence, Cal must work to prove the guilty person is his own son.
       The Heart of Soldiers is a thought-provoking novel that hits hard on your emotions. It delves into how people handle heart-breaking loss: the loss of a spouse, the loss of a child, the loss of faith, and the loss of love. The reader can’t help but grieve with Allison and Cal and hope that someday they will find a little joy.
       Well-written and compelling, this book is perfect for a hot muggy night when you just want to kick back and settle down for awhile.
       Schroeder, a resident of Winchester, Virginia, teaches creative writing at Lord Fairfax Community College. She has been published on the editorial pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.

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This story was published on September 1, 1999.